Elite Migration, Transnational Families, and the Nation State: International Marriages between Finns and Americans across the Atlantic in the Twentieth Century

Johanna Leinonen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


My dissertation explores transatlantic migration in the context of international marriages in the twentieth century, using marriages between Finns and Americans in Finland and the U.S. as a case study. The first part of my dissertation documents and explains changes in migration and marriage patterns between Finland and the U.S. over the course of the 20th century. My research shows that among Finns in the U.S. and Americans in Finland, international marriages have become extremely common. In fact, in both migrant populations marriage and migration are often inextricably intertwined: the main explanation for the high number of international marriages can be found in the mobile lifestyles of students, professionals, and young people traveling. The occurrence of these marriages is thus related to the elite position of Finnish and American migrants today: with their EU and U.S. passports, and relatively privileged socioeconomic and racial status, they can move around the world with relative ease. At the same time, the impact of law cannot be dismissed even in the case of these elite migrants: it provides the framework in which these marriages are contracted.In the second part of my dissertation, I challenge ?methodological individualism? (the idea that elite migrants are male professionals who are not bound by familial relationships) by revealing the very important roles that marriage and family play in the migration decisions of elite migrants. I also examine how Finnish migrants in the U.S. and American migrants in Finland negotiate their identities and transnational family life in international marriages. My research shows that during important life-changes, such as when a migrant has a child, transnational engagements often intensify. At the same time, these significant events may also make the migrant feel more attached to the host country. Thus, I found that a migrants simultaneous engagement in the country of origin and the country of residence highlights the weakness of treating integration and transnationalism as if they were dichotomous categories. My study also contributes to literature that challenges the traditional idea of migration as a unidirectional movement from one place to another initiated by a single motive work or family. I show that in reality, multiple motives and multidirectional movements are often involved.Finally, I explore how these elite migrants have been incorporated into immigration discourses in Finland and the U.S. Both countries imagine themselves as exceptional but in very different ways. Finland, it is often argued, is an exceptionally homogeneous nation with no experience in dealing with immigration. Meanwhile, the U.S. portrays itself as a ?nation of immigrants.? I found that the differing discourses surrounding immigration and the distinctive meanings attached to the term ?immigrant? in Finland and the U.S. were crucial determinants of the way Finns and Americans understood their place in the receiving nation. My research also challenges the common assumption that elite migrants automatically enjoy an ?elite status? and can choose the extent to which they integrate in the receiving society. In fact, my research highlights that many migrants experienced a loss of occupational status when moving to the new country, especially in the case of Americans who moved to Finland.
Original languageEnglish (US)
  • Gabaccia, Donna R., Supervisor, External person
  • Lee, Erika, Supervisor
Place of PublicationMinneapolis, MN
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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