Host Culture Adoption and Ethnic Retention among Turkish Immigrants and their Descendants in France, Germany, and the Netherlands


Theoretical background and objectives

The project contributes to societal and scientific debate by examining the relationship between integration policies and the socio-cultural integration of immigrants in three European countries that have pursued contrasting integration policies: France, Germany and the Netherlands. Socio-cultural integration is treated as a two-dimensional concept consisting of the degree of host culture adoption and the degree of ethnic retention. Following Berry (1997) these two dimensions are seen as – at least potentially – independent. Both dimensions are measured on the basis of four indicators. The degree of host culture adoption is measured as identification with the host country, host country language proficiency, host country language usage and social contacts with natives. The degree of ethnic retention is measured as identification with Turks, Turkish language proficiency, identification with Muslims and the observance of Islamic religious rules (halal diet, participation in Ramadan, mosque visits and headscarf wearing). The project tests several theories of immigrant assimilation in a cross-national perspective: theories em­phasis­ing material costs and benefits of retention and adoption, which claim that assimilation pressures will lead to adoption of the host culture and multicultural policies will promote ethnic retention; acculturative stress theories that pose that adoption is less likely to occur if it is seen as requiring the rejection of the culture of origin; and reactive ethnicity theories, which assume that immigrants withdraw in their ethnic cultures if they face assimilation pressures. In addition, the project pays special attention to naturalisation policies: Based on the widespread assumption that easily accessible citizenship promotes socio-cultural integration, two hypotheses are tested. First, whether naturalised immigrants display higher levels of socio-cultural integration than non-naturalised immigrants. Second, whether immigrants in countries with few preconditions for naturalisation show higher levels of socio-cultural integration.

Research design, data and methodology

Most previous comparative studies have not been able to control sufficiently for compositional effects related to the timing of immigration and the national and regional composition of immigrant populations. By choosing a quasi-experimental design, the project sought to eliminate such composition effects as far as possible. Therefore, original data were collected based on a telephone survey in the three countries that targeted a selected group of Turkish immigrants and their direct offspring originating in two rural regions of Turkey, who migrated before 1975. Thus, the sample (n = 1 000) excludes all follow-up migration of Turkish refugees and marriage migrants, which occurred to varying degrees in the three countries, and ensures that we are comparing similar immigrants in the three countries, and not predominantly urban Turkish guest workers from Istanbul in one country to Kurdish refugees in another country. All respondents had the option to answer the questionnaire either in Turkish or in their host-country language. The survey data were analysed using multivariate regression techniques, and took into account a range of individual-level control variables as well as the local density of the Turkish immigrant population. The quantitative findings were corroborated and refined with almost 90 additional in-depth interviews.


Results show that ethnic retention is strongest in the Netherlands, where multicultural policies were long prevalent, while host culture adoption is strongest in the French context, which has more strongly emphasised assimilation, at least where participation in the public realm is concerned. On the individual level, there is a negative relationship between ethnic retention and host culture adoption, which persists after controlling for relevant background variables. Naturalisation is positively associated with socio-cultural integration only in those countries—France and Germany—that have traditionally required a certain degree of cultural assimilation from their new citizens. Regarding country differences, the analyses reveal that Turkish immigrants in France show higher levels of host culture adoption on all four indicators. For host-country identification, they share this position with Dutch Turks. Taken together, these results provide no support for reactive ethnicity theories, as ethnic retention was strongest in the Netherlands, where citizenship policies have been most inclusive. They do provide support for a combination of material cost/benefit perspectives and acculturative stress perspectives, as neither a lack of incentives for adoption of the host culture (as was long the case in the Netherlands) nor very restrictive citizenship policies that promote an ethnically thick conception of citizenship (as long prevalent in Germany) have been successful in seducing immigrants to adopt the host culture. The results show that limited cultural assimilation conditions tied to an otherwise inclusive notion of citizenship (as in France) may be more helpful in promoting socio-cultural integration, but they also demonstrate that the allowance of dual nationality does not have the negative effects that are sometimes ascribed to it.

Main content

Ausgewählte Publikationen

Ersanilli, Evelyn/Koopmans, Ruud (2009): Ethnic Retention and Host Culture Adoption among Turkish Immigrants in Germany, France and the Netherlands. A Controlled Comparison. WZB Discussion Paper SP IV 2009-701. Berlin: WZB.
Ersanilli, Evelyn (2010): Comparing Integration. Host Culture Adoption and Ethnic Retention Among Turkish Immigrants and their Descendents in France, Germany and the Netherlands. Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, XII, 191 S.
Ersanilli, Evelyn/Koopmans, Ruud (2010): "Rewarding integration? Citizenship Regulations and the Socio-Cultural Integration of Immigrants in the Netherlands, France and Germany". In: Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 36, No. 5, S. 773-791.