Skip to main content

Beyond l’Auberge Espagnole: The Effect of Individual Mobility on the Formation of Intra-European Couples


This paper focuses on intra-European partnership formation in three European countries: Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Intra‐European mobility has been actively promoted and stimulated by the European Commission (e.g., free movement of persons, the Erasmus student exchange program). One of the reasons for this promotion is that exchanges and relationships between Europeans of different descent are seen as a core indicator of the success of the European project. In this paper, we address the question to what extent intra-European mobility fosters partnerships between Europeans of different descent. Intra-European mobility can create opportunities both to meet partners from other European countries and to accumulate the necessary capital (economic, cultural, linguistic, mobility) to engage in a relationship with a foreign European. We use original data on European (binational) couples, collected in 2012 in the three countries (EUMARR survey), to study the choice of native men and women to engage in a relationship with either a foreign-born European partner or a partner from the own native country. We apply a broader life course perspective that captures migration and mobility experiences prior to the relationship as causal antecedents leading to an intra-European partnership. Results based on logistic regression models suggest that there is an individual effect of long stays abroad and short mobility experiences in (early) adulthood on having an intra-European partner (in comparison with a native partner).

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    It is noteworthy that in discussions on free movement of EU citizens, the positively connoted term ‘mobility’ is often preferred over ‘migration,’ with the first also referring to a wider range of relocations including non-permanent types of migration such as seasonal work and cross-border commuting for employment (e.g., Favell 2008; Santacreu et al. 2009).

  2. 2.

    In that respect, a central point for our argumentation is the adoption of free movement for EU citizens in Switzerland, which has been in force since June 2002 (for more details cf. EDA 2014). This not only includes the freedom to move to and work in Switzerland (with only minor qualifications) but also easier access for those who commute across borders to work in Switzerland. In February 2014, a referendum of the Swiss electorate decided to restrict the freedom of movement also for EU citizens. The constitution demands that the referendum has to be implemented within three years (EDA 2014), but how it will be implemented has to be awaited.

  3. 3.

    These are marriages between partners born in different countries.

  4. 4.

    For more details on the respective surveys, see de Valk et al. (2013) for Belgium, Heering et al. (2013) for the Netherlands and Schroedter and Rössel (2013) for Switzerland.

  5. 5.

    The overall response rates are 32.2 % for Belgium, 37.1 % for the Netherlands and 40.5 % for Switzerland.

  6. 6.

    The vast majority of the foreign-born partners come from (other) EU-27 countries.

  7. 7.

    The question was followed by an annotation indicating that by ‘speaking a language’ we mean that one can have a long conversation with native speakers of that language.

  8. 8.

    Originally, we also included the number of travels additionally to the diversity of travels, but this variable did not add to the quality of the clusters.

  9. 9.

    For continuous variables, the marginal effect indicates to what extent the probability of Y = 1 increases if x increases one unit. For dichotomous variables, the marginal effect indicates the average effect of x at a discrete change from 0 to 1.

  10. 10.

    This result is rather unexpected as intermarriage is usually found to be more likely among native women than among native men (e.g. Kalmijn 1998, p. 412). An explanation might lie in the composition of our sample with respect to the involved nationalities as well as to the average high level of education and the urban context.

  11. 11.

    However, we did not account for the kind of the trips, which could matter, too. Vacations in resorts isolated from the everyday life of the native residents might be less influential than firsthand experiences.


  1. Baldoni, E. (2003). The free movement of persons in the European Union: A legal-historical overview. State of the Art Report. PIONEUR Working Paper No. 2. Accessed 20 Aug 2014

  2. Benton, M., & Petrovic, M. (2012). The state of research on intra-EU mobility: Trends, drivers, and impact. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.

  3. Blau, P. M. (1994). Structural contexts of opportunities. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Blau, P. M., Blum, T. C., & Schwartz, J. (1982). Homogeneity and intermarriage. American Sociological Review, 47, 45–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Blau, P. M., & Schwartz, J. E. (1984). Crosscutting social circles. Orlando: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bozon, M., & Héran, F. (1989). Finding a spouse: A survey of how French couples meet. Population, 44(1), 91–121.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Braun, M., & Recchi, E. (2008). Interethnic partnerships of Western Europeans: Between preferences and opportunities. OBETS, Revista de Ciencias Sociales, 1, 73–89. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.

  8. Breugelmans, S. M. (2004). Antecedents and components of majority attitudes toward multiculturalism in the Netherlands. Applied Psychology, 53(3), 400–422.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Cameron, A. C., & Trivedi, P. K. (2010). Microeconomics using Stata (2nd ed.). College Station: Stata Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Carlson, S. (2011). Just a matter of choice? Student mobility as a social and biographical process. SCMR-working Paper No. 68. East Sussex: University of Sussex: Sussex Centre for Migration Research.

    Google Scholar 

  11. de Valk, H. A. G., Koelet, S., & Sanctobin, S. (2013). Codebook of the EUMARR websurvey in Belgium.

  12. Deutsch, K., Burrel, S. A., Kann, R. A., Lee, M., Lichterman, M., Lindgren, R. E., et al. (1957). Political Community and the North Atlantic area. International organization in the light of historical experience. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Díez Medrano, J. (2014). The socio-economic returns of fluency in English as a foreign language. In J. Gerhards, S. Hans, & S. Carlson (Eds.), Globalisierung, Bildung und grenzüberschreitende Mobilität (pp. 239–258). Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  14. EDA. (2014). Die Bilateralen Abkommen Schweiz—Europäische Union. Ausgabe 2014: Accessed 8 Jan 2015.

  15. European Commission. (1997). Second report on citizenship of the union. Bruxelles: European Commission.

    Google Scholar 

  16. European Commission. (2010). Geographical and labour market mobility report. Special Eurobarometer 337. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.

  17. European Commission. (2012). Europeans and their languages. Special Eurobarometer 386. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.

  18. European Commission. (2013a). European social statistics. 2013 edition. Accessed 23 Dec 2014.

  19. European Commission. (2013b). Public opinion in the European Union. Standard Eurobarometer 80. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.

  20. European Commission. (2014). Preferences of Europeans towards tourism. Flash Eurobarometer 392. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.

  21. Favell, A. (2008). Eurostars and eurocities: Free movement and mobility in an integrating Europe. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  22. Feld, S. L. (1981). The focused organization of social ties. American Journal of Sociology, 86(5), 1015–1035.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Feld, S. L. (1982). Social structural determinants of similarity among associates. American Sociological Review, 47, 797–801.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Fligstein, N. (2008). Euro-Clash: The EU, European identity, and the future of Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Gaspar, S. (2008). Towards a definition of European intra-marriage as a new social phenomenon. CIES E-Working Paper, 46. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.

  26. Gaspar, S. (2012). Patterns of bi-national couples across five EU countries. Sociologia, Problemas e Práticas, 70, 71–89.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Gerhards, J. (2012). From Babel to Brussels. European Integration and the importance of transnational linguistic capital. Berlin Studies on the Sociology of Europe (BSSE) No. 28. Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Greven, M. T. (2000). Can the European Union finally become a democracy? In M. T. Greven & L. W. Pauly (Eds.), Democracy beyond the State? The European Dilemma and the emerging global order (pp. 35–60). Maryland/Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Heering, L., van Solinge, H., & van Wissen, L. (2013). Codebook of EUMARR websurvey in Netherlands.

  30. Hjerm, M. (2001). Education, xenophobia and nationalism: A comparative analysis. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 27(1), 37–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Igarashi, H., & Saito, H. (2014). Cosmopolitanism as cultural capital: Exploring the intersection of globalization, education and stratification. Cultural Sociology, 8(3), 222–239. doi:10.1177/1749975514523935.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Kalmijn, M. (1998). Intermarriage and homogamy: Causes, patterns, trends. Annual Review of Sociology, 24, 395–421.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Kalmijn, M., & Flap, H. D. (2001). Assortative meeting and mating: Unintended consequences of organized settings for partner choices. Social Forces, 79(4), 1289–1312.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Kaufmann, V., Bergman, M. M., & Joye, D. (2004). Motility: Mobility as capital. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 28(4), 745–756. doi:10.1111/j.0309-1317.2004.00549.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Koelet, S. M., Schroedter, J. H., Cortina, C., de Valk, H. A. G., & de Busser, C. (2012). Bi-national marriages between European citizens: From intermarriage to intramarriage. In D.-S. Kim (Ed.), Cross-border marriage: Global trends and diversity (pp. 123–162). Seoul: Kihasa.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Koikkalainen, S. (2013). Making it abroad: Experiences of highly skilled Finns in the European Union labour markets. Rovaniemi: University of Lapland.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Kuhn, T. (2011). Individual transnationalism, globalisation and euroscepticism: An empirical test of Deutsch’s transactionalist theory. European Journal of Political Research, 50(6), 811–837. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6765.2011.01987.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Lanzieri, G. (2012). Mixed marriages in Europe 1990–2010. In D.-S. Kim (Ed.), Cross-border marriage. Global trends and diversity (pp. 81–122). Seoul: Kihasa.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Licata, L., & Klein, O. (2002). Does European citizenship breed xenophobia? European identification as a predictor of intolerance towards immigrants. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 12, 1–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Lindenberg, S. (1989). Social production functions, deficits and social revolution: Prerevolutionary France and Russia. Rationality and Society, 1, 51–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Martinovic, B., van Tubergen, F., & Maas, I. (2009). Dynamics of interethnic contact: A panel study of immigrants in the Netherlands. European Sociological Review, 25(3), 303–318.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Mau, S., & Büttner, S. (2010). Transnationality. In S. Immerfall & G. Therborn (Eds.), Handbook of European Societies (pp. 537–570). New York: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  43. Mau, S., Mewes, J., & Zimmermann, A. (2008). Cosmopolitan attitudes through transnational social practices? Global Networks, 8(1), 1–24. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0374.2008.00183.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Murphy-Lejeune, E. (2002). Student mobility and narrative in Europe: The new strangers. London, New York: Routledge.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  45. Ormel, J., Lindenberg, S., Steverink, N., & Verbrugge, L. M. (1999). Subjective well-being and social production functions. Social Indicators Research, 46(1), 61–90.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Pascouau, Y. (2013). Intra-EU mobility of third-country nationals—State of play and prospects. European Policy Centre. Working Paper Apr 2013. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.

  47. Recchi, E., & Favell, A. (Eds.). (2009). Pioneers of European integration: Citizenship and mobility in the EU. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Roeder, A. (2011). Does mobility matter for attitudes to Europe? A multi-level analysis of immigrants’ attitudes to European unification. Political Studies, 59(2), 458–471. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9248.2010.00871.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Rosenfeld, M. J., & Thomas, R. J. (2012). Searching for a mate. The rise of the internet as a social intermediary. American Sociological Review, 77(4), 523–547.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Rössel, J., & Schroedter, J. H. (2014). Der Erwerb linguistischen Kapitals. Transnationales und Schweiz-spezifisches linguistisches Kapital im Vergleich. In J. Gerhards, S. Hans, & S. Carlson (Eds.), Globalisierung, Bildung und grenzüberschreitende Mobilität (pp. 153–183). Wiesbaden: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  51. Rössel, J. & Schroedter, J. H. (2015). Cosmopolitan cultural consumption. Preferences and practices in an heterogenous, urban population in Switzerland. Forthcoming in Poetics.

  52. Rother, N., & Nebe, T. (2009). More mobile, more European? Free movement and EU identity. In E. Recchi & A. Favell (Eds.), Pioneers of European integration—Citizenship and mobility in the EU (pp. 120–155). Cheltenham: Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Santacreu, O., Baldoni, E., & Albert, M. C. (2009). Deciding to move: migration projects in an integrating Europe. In E. Recchi & A. Favell (Eds.), Pioneers of European integration—Citizenship and mobility in the EU (pp. 52–71). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Schaeffer, M. (2013). Inter-ethnic neighbourhood acquaintanceships between migrants and natives in Germany. On the brokering roles of inter-ethnic partners and children. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 39(8), 1219–1240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Schroedter, J. H. & Rössel, J. (2013). Codebook of the EUMARR Survey: Switzerland. Accessed 20 Aug 2014.

  56. Schroedter, J. H., & Rössel, J. (2014). Europeanisation without the European Union? The case of bi-national marriages in Switzerland. Population, Space and Place, 20(2), 139–156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Simmel, G. (2009). Sociology: Inquiries into the construction of social forms. Leiden, Boston: Brill.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Spannring, R., Wallace, C., & Datler, G. (2008). What leads young people to identify with Europe? An exploration of the impact of exposure to Europe and political engagement on European identity among young Europeans. Perspectives on European Politics and Society, 9(4), 480–498.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Weenink, D. (2008). Cosmopolitanism as a form of capital: Parents preparing their children for a globalizing world. Sociology, 42(6), 1089–1106. doi:10.1177/0038038508096935.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The paper is part of the framework of the European EUMARR project ‘Toward a European Society: Single Market, Binational Marriages, and Social Group Formation in Europe (EUMARR),’ supported by the European Science Foundation (EUI2010-04221). The Swiss EUMARR project was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the Belgian EUMARR project was funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) (09-ECRP-044, FWO finance number G.0994.10N), and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) funded the project in the Netherlands. We are grateful to all the country research teams in the EUMARR project and would also like to thank the guest editors and the anonymous referees for their valuable comments that helped to improve the paper. All the remaining errors are ours.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julia H. Schroedter.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Schroedter, J.H., De Winter, T. & Koelet, S. Beyond l’Auberge Espagnole: The Effect of Individual Mobility on the Formation of Intra-European Couples. Eur J Population 31, 181–206 (2015).

Download citation


  • Europeans
  • Mobility experiences
  • Partner choice
  • Opportunities
  • Mobility capital