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A Study of Marriage in a Finnish Community

John I. Kolehmainen


The marriages of foreign-born Finns in the community studied fall into three transitional and chronological periods: 1895-1915, the normal period with marriage of foreign-born with foreign-born; 1916-25, the modified normal period with marriage of foreign-born with native-born; 1926-35, the mixed-marriage probability period marked by the presence of marriage with a non-Finn as an alternative to homogeneous union. In the marriages of native-born Finns appear two significant trends: increasing preponderance of mixed over homogeneous marriages and disproportion in favor of female contractants in the mixed marriages.

This is a study of 350 marriages of foreign-born and native-born Finns living in Conneaut, Ohio. The number represents more than 95 per cent of all the homogeneous and mixed marriages occurring in the years 1895-1935. The data have been gathered from church and temperance society records, supplemented with interviews and questionnaires.

There are today some 350 to 400 foreign-born and between 800 and 1,000 native-born Finns in the Finnish areas in Conneaut, Ohio, a town of 9,000 inhabitants where they form there the largest immigrant group. The first Finnish settlement in Conneaut developed on the shore of Lake Erie when permanent employment was assured by the construction of the Pittsburgh and Conneaut iron-ore unloading docks in 1892.1 In 1893 there were twenty men and two women in the community. A house-to-house canvass in 1915 showed about 1,500 foreign- and native-born Finns in the settlement, 40 per cent of whom had arrived in the decade 1900-1910. Since the war the number has remained nearly stationary, with a slight tendency toward decrease, partly as a result of the migration of native-born to larger cities and partly as a result of a falling birth-rate. This settlement has always contained more than 90 per cent of the total Finnish stock. As a consequence of numerical preponderance, the development of strong immigrant institutions (as the temperance society and the church), periodic infusion of new immigrants, and relative freedom from contact with other groups, the Finns were able to impose upon the community a stamp of unmistakable Finnish culture. In post-war years this homogeneity has been broken through the action of disintegrating forces. The other Finnish areas, offshoots of this settlement, have been too small in number of immigrants and insufficiently integrated to permit the establishment or maintenance of separate identity. The material for this study has been drawn primarily from the original and largest settlement.

A study of the marriages of foreign-born Finns in Conneaut has suggested application in this paper of an interpretation that takes into account changes which have been and are still taking place in the physical condition of the area and in the psychological condition of the immigrants. It holds that the changing mores tend to the approval of mixed marriages of foreign-born, not so much in first marriage but in remarriage, as being the more likely to occur at the present. The history of the marriages of the foreign-born Finns can be viewed as falling into three transitional and chronological periods: (1) 1895-1915, the normal period, characterized by marriage in which both contractants were foreign-born Finns; (2) 1916-25, the modified normal period, marked by the marriage of foreign-born Finn with native-born; and (3) 1926-present, the mixed marriage probability period, distinguished from the others by the presence of marriage with a non-Finn as an alternative to homogeneous marriage.

Prior to the outbreak of the war, conditions in the Finnish community were such as to make marriage of foreign-born Finn with foreign-born Finn a normal event. The culture area was well defined, isolated, and strong. Flourishing immigrant institutions preserved and intensified Old World culture patterns and fostered the development of group solidarity and ethnocentrism. What little acculturation took place (in dress, food, and less often language) was offset by a steady stream of new blood that flowed into the area from Finland. Assimilation, up to this point, involved no psychological changes which would have permitted the suggestion of marriage with a non-Finn. The tendency of immigration to equalize the sex proportion of marriageables, contrasted with the presence of a few Portuguese and Italians as the only other immigrants in the community, removed all probability, for the time being, of the conjecture being evoked. Before 1916 the formula of "no definite place for intermarriage in the immigrant's evolution"2 was adequate. In all the marriages of foreign-born Finns from 1895 to 1916 (with two exceptions), the contractants were first-generation Finns.3 A survey of the available statistics on the age distribution of these marriages shows that a majority of them occurred between the ages of twenty to twenty-three, with the females tending to be the younger. This age distribution reveals another characteristic of the period. Not only were the marriages between foreign-born Finns, but they took place after a very short residence in America.

The period 1916-25 was marked by the marriage of foreign-born Finn with native-born. By 1916 the foreign-born marriageables in the community had been paired off. What new immigrants came into the settlement had the choice of marriage with a native-born Finn, a non-Finn, or remaining unmarried. Of a total of sixteen of these intergeneration (the phrase is not used in its age-gradation sense but refers only to country of birth) marriages, thirteen occurred in this period. The sex and age distribution was as here tabulated (see also summary at the end of this paper). Did the marriage

Sex distribution: 11 foreign-born males married nativeborn females; 5 foreign-born females married native-born males
Age distribution: average age of whole group -23.3 years
females - 21.8
males - 24.9
native-born - 22.0
foreign-born - 24.7

of foreign-born Finn with native-born indicate a modification in the marriage mores? In the matter of education, occupation, and assimilation4 there are no great differences between the foreign-born contractant and the native-born. Yet, fundamentally, it was not the same thing as marriage in which both contractants were first-generation Finns. It was not regarded as the normal thing by community opinion as expressed by either generation. By one it was stigmatized as marriage "with a Finlander", and by the other as marriage "with one born in this country". As far as the immigrant group as a whole is concerned, this intergeneration marriage must be interpreted as a loosening of traditional views on marriage. But it was, nevertheless, homogeneous union. It in itself would never have led to the likelihood of marriage with a non-Finn.

After the war, and more particularly after 1926, important changes occurred in the physical condition of the community area and in the psychological condition of the immigrants. The culture area was subjected to attack from without and to decay from within. With the expansion and growth of the town, pressure on the outer rim of the settlement increased and was followed by penetration. The tendency of the immigrants to move out from the bounds of the community made it more susceptible to encroachment. The other immigrant groups tended to increase their holdings in the original settlement by virtue of a high birth-rate. The isolation and homogeneity of the culture area were breaking down, and the ties of group solidarity were loosening. The cessation of immigration had two corollaries: atrophy of the Old World culture-preserving functions of the immigrant institutions was made inevitable; the struggle for the maintenance of Finnish immigrant life gave way to a disposition to promote the assimilative process. Disillusionment in the "new Finland ideal" led the Finns in the years following from active participation in immigrant institutions to aloofness from them; from antipathy toward American ways to adoption of them.

Meanwhile, the question of marriage, once settled in favor of homogeneous union, appeared again when the native-born reached a marriageable age. That second-generation Finns might select non-Finns for mates was not, by any means, unforeseen. Before the war the immigrants had seen how the progressive contacts of their children with non-Finns tended to draw them away from participation in first-generation life. "How can we keep our children from associating with those of other nationalities and from marrying them?"5 was the subject of frequent discussion. The answer, they thought, lay in making their institutions appeal to the youth. Old World prejudices against dancing and games were toned down and the institutions liberalized. But the attempts to induce the native-born to carry on Finnish culture and to assure its continuance by homogeneous marriage failed. In more cases than not the children took a contrary course which led to marriage with non-Finns. Out of the 214 marriages which have occurred among the native-born Finns to date, 123 were mixed marriages. There was no Finnish family in the community which had not been brought directly or indirectly in touch with mixed marriage. From what has been already pointed out it is obvious that the adjustment of an immigrant to the marriage of his son or daughter with a non-Finn was acquiescence.6 This consent did not represent a sudden expedient. Its preparation had been going on since the war and was made possible by the changes which had taken place.

The union of native-born with non-Finn came to be the most important single factor inducing further modification in the immigrant views on marriage by reason of its increasing frequency and its accelerative effect on assimilation. The proportion of mixed to homogeneous marriages rose after 1926. More important than this increase was the tendency of the contractants to remain in Conneaut and to share, temporarily or permanently, the homes of the foreign-born. The effect of this very close relationship between immigrants and mixed-marriage contractants was that within the family of each foreign-born there was now set up a process of assimilation, contributing to that of the whole group. The gap between foreign-born Finns and non-Finns was spanned by the action of a great number of these rapidly Americanizing family units. As the differences between immigrants and others were being eradicated, the way was being opened for the possibility that the remarriage question would permit marriage with a non-Finn. The three mixed marriages7 of foreign-born Finns which have occurred in the community seem to indicate some justification for this thesis. They fall chronologically in this last period; in each case the Finnish contractant was far along the road to cultural assimilation when the marriage was consummated. The average age was thirty-three.

It is easy to draw from this time, age, and acculturation sequence a theory of a definite progression leading toward mixed marriage of foreign-born to the exclusion of homogeneous union. It is not, however, that conclusive. In both second and third periods the remarriages of foreign-born Finns with foreign-born Finns have outnumbered remarriages with non-Finns, although there is a probability of marriage with a non-Finn. The immigrants have reached a stage of acculturation which will permit intermarriage; the psychological barriers have been removed. And if the present tendencies - disintegration of the culture area and increasing mixed marriages of native-born with residence in the community - are continued, the marriage of immigrant with non-Finn will become more probable. That this practice will entirely displace homogeneous marriages within the lifespan remaining to the present immigrants is another and more doubtful matter.

A study of the marriages of native-born Finns in Conneaut shows two significant trends: the increasing preponderance of mixed over homogeneous unions; and the disproportion in favor of female over male contractants in the mixed marriages. There have occurred to date 230 marriages (including the intergeneration) of native-born Finns, 91 of which have been homogeneous, 16 intergeneration, and 123 mixed. Thus almost 54 per cent of the total number have been mixed marriages. Since 1926 the proportion of mixed to homogeneous marriages has risen markedly; in 1935, for example, there were nearly three mixed marriages to one homogeneous. There is also a preponderance of female over male contractants. For 47 mixed unions in which the Finnish contractants were males there were 76 in which the Finnish contractants were females.

In explanation of this trend especially after 1926, it appears that while the loss of homogeneity and the changed views of the immigrants on marriage gave impetus to the mixed marriage of native-born Finns, they were not in themselves the primary causal agents. Had the culture of the area remained strong, and the first generation continue to demand homogeneous unions of its offspring, mixed unions would have taken place notwithstanding. The chief reason for the preponderance of mixed over homogeneous marriages must be sought in the native-born themselves. Up to the time the native-born Finn began his education in the American school system he might well have been, from the point of view of bringing-up and contacts, born and reared in Finland. He learned to speak Finnish before he became aware that another language existed. He was introduced at an early age to immigrant institutions and began to further his training in their language schools.

Attendance in American schools, however, made inevitable an increasing, number of contacts with non-Finns. The native-born Finnish children set the two cultures, the Finnish and non-Finnish, in contrast. Not only did the latter have a greater appeal to him, but the difficulties of trying to be a Finn, on the one hand, and an American, on the other, became onerous. By being coerced to continue his participation in immigrant life, to further his knowledge of Finnish language and history, the native-born came to regard unfavorably everything Finnish. A majority of them, however, completed the normal requirements of Finnish education, and outwardly seemed to be Finnish, speaking the language at home, and participating more or less whole-heartedly in immigrant activities. Inwardly, however, they disliked the exactions of this dual existence. Once having fulfilled (about the age of sixteen) his Finnish obligations, the native-born broke into rebellion against Finnish immigrant life. Resistance to Finnish customs and traditions crystallized into open opposition, participation in immigrant institutions ceased, and command of the language began to disappear rapidly. Conflicts with the parents over choice of friends, dancing, habits, etc., were settled unilaterally in favor of the second generation. It became fashionable to disguise one's Finnish origin and questions as to racial stock were answered evasively if at all. Finnish Christian names were changed to American equivalents (Toivo to Tom, Tyyne to Mary) and often surnames suffered the same fate (as from Koivumaki to Hill).

It was in this period of revolt that most mixed marriages were contracted. Marriage with a non-Finn represented the climax of this rebellion against the first generation. If the native-born Finn survived this period of revolt without marrying a non-Finn, there followed with attainment of full maturity (from twenty-five on) a reaction to the anti-Finnish prejudices. He became more tolerant and sympathetic with his immigrant forbears. This was made apparent by reversion to the use of Finnish names and by a reawakened interest in Finnish immigrant life. In this period one sees more of the elements of deliberate choice and rational weighing of the pros and cons of marriage.

Statistics indicate a fairly equal division of mixed and homogeneous marriages at this age level. Obviously, such factors as propinquity, education, occupation, and interests played important roles in the final decision. If one seeks, then, a single explanation for the preponderance of mixed over homogeneous marriages, it must be found in the psychological condition of the native-born in the revolt period. That this condition was real is reflected in part in the fact that nearly 63 per cent of the Finnish contractants married non-Finns living in Conneaut, and in part by the non-occupational or student status (see summary) of a great number of them. Marriage with a non-Finn was an unavoidable, if at times headlong, adjustment to this state of mind. Those native-born Finns who were less infected with repugnance to immigrant life, or who were swayed by the few admonitory voices which remained, contracted homogeneous unions.

The disproportion in favor of mixed marriages after 1926 is explained by the fact that the forces which hitherto had coerced or made a number of native-born homogeneous marriages were becoming feeble. The culture of the area had lost its strength. Parental objection to mixed marriage became less strong and encouragement of marriage with non-Finns grew more frequent. With but little opposition from the immigrants the revolt against immigrant life was made easier as time went on, and its success, reflected in marriage with a non-Finn, was more readily achieved. Most immigrants are reconciled to the inevitability of mixed marriage and the loss of Finnish culture. One immigrant put it to the writer in this fashion, "Come back in a few years and all Finnish traces will have disappeared through the action of ever increasing mixed marriages."

All the Finnish contractants in first-generation mixed marriages were females. Out of 123 second-generation mixed marriages, 76 of the Finnish contractants were likewise females. This disproportion suggests the sex availability of homogeneous marriageables. If there were not enough Finnish males to go around and if Finnish females were thereby forced to seek non-Finnish mates, then the female superiority is reduced to a mere population phenomenon. Finnish migration to America was characterized by the preponderance of male over female migrants. Although the tendency after 1903 was toward equalization of this disproportion parity was never reached. In this community (it is probably true of most Finnish settlements) immigrant males outnumbered the females throughout the period. The mixed marriages of first-generation Finnish females cannot be explained in terms of the non-availability of Finnish males, nor was there a sex discrepancy in the native-born group large enough to account for the disproportion in favor of female contractants. In 64 families picked at random there were 85 males who had reached a marriageable age between the years 1910-35 and 92 females, or 1.3 males and 1.4 females per family. Using unweighted figures, the differential in favor of females is about 23 per cent. Using corrected figures which take into consideration this population tendency, the differential is reduced 4 per cent, to about 19 per cent. Almost 20 per cent is left unaccounted for. The number who have chosen not to marry is insignificant, and moreover the number of unmarried women tends to balance the number of unmarried men. The explanation must be sought in the psychological condition of the young women during the period of revolt.

In the rebellion against Finnish immigrant life the native-born female was "a greater rebel" than the male. She perceived differences in immigrant and non-immigrant life sooner and with greater emotional response. She had had more contact, had been in closer touch with first-generation life than the male who possessed at all times more mobility. Her antipathy to immigrant life was intensified, not lessened, by her very proximity to it. Questionnaires circulated by the author among native-born show that the female had more points of conflict with parents than had the male. She was also more in touch with deliberate or unconscious encouragement of her parents to marriage with a non-Finn. That the prestige motive was present is obvious; what is important is that the Finnish female more than the Finnish male wanted the prestige, and economic betterment that accompanied (in theory or in practice) marriage with a non-Finn. Escape from the final reminder of immgirant origin-the usually long and unpronounceable Finnish surname-was easier for the female, for a male could not change his name except by legal action. By the simple act of marriage with a non-Finn the female could sever the last link which had tied her to a Finnish immigrant background, bringing her a complete freedom denied the male.

Finally, one should not overlook the match-making propensities of women in contradistinction to the apathetic rôle of men as marriage brokers. The Finnish females who married non-Finns were eager to serve as intermediaries between their Finnish girl friends and their husbands' non-Finnish male friends. This provision for propinquity accounts for a great number of mixed marriages. What has been said of the psychological condition of native-born females applies also to the foreign-born women who married non-Finns. They had been motivated by the same dislike of immigrant life and desire for freedom from it, leading to marriage with non-Finns and loss of Finnish identity.

No generalizations can be made on matters of divorce and the likes and dislikes of the Finnish contractants in reference to the national origins of their non-Finnish mates. As far as compatibility is concerned, our divorce figures indicate that there is very little difference between mixed and homogeneous marriages of the native-born. There have been five divorces in 91 homogeneous marriages, seven in 123 mixed. The highest rate is found in the intergeneration marriages where there have been two divorces in 16 unions. Among the homogeneous intrageneration marriages of the foreign-born there have occurred only two divorces. There have appeared no conclusive trends toward the preponderance of one national stock in the non-Finnish contractants of second-generation mixed marriages. What little preference has been shown is accountable for on religious grounds rather than on those of nationality.

 Statistical summary of native-born marriages

Total number of marriages: 230
Homogeneous: males, 39
females, 52
total, 91 [39.5 per cent of total]
Mixed: males, 47
females, 76
total, 123 [53.5 per cent of total]
Intergeneration: males, 5
females, 11
total, 16 [7 per cent of total]
Age distribution of marriages:
Homogeneous: males, 23.6 years
females, 22.1
average, 22.8
Mixed: males, 24.6
females, 21.8
average, 23.2

Chronological-age distribution:


Aver. Age

Aver. Age
Mixed (Years)




Educational distribution:

Homogeneous Mixed Intergeneration
M. F. M. F. M. F.
Grade school 12 21 14 21 4 11
High school (one or more years 18 32 28 45 0 0
College (one or more years) 1 0 3 2 1 .....
Not known 7 10 0

Occupational distribution:




Agriculture laborers




Domestics, servants




Unskillled laborers




Skilled laborers








Office workers




Professional, lawyers, etc.




Students, no occupation




Others, not known




Regional distribution:

45 marriages with both contractants from Conneaut
46 marriages with only one contractant from Conneaut; of the non-Conneaut contractants, 30 were males and 16 females.
77 marriages with both contractants from Conneaut
46 marriages with only one contractant from Conneaut; of the non-Conneaut contractants, 36 were males and io females

Place of residence today:

45 couples live in Conneaut, 43 elsewhere, 3 not known
76 couples live in Conneaut, 43 elsewhere, 4 not known


1 For the history of the Finns in Conneaut see Kalle H. Mannerkorpi, "Conneautin suomal. ev.-luth. seurakunnan historia 20 vuotisajalta, 1895-1915" Paimen Sanomia (Hancock, Mich.), July 12, 1915; also an unpublished manuscript by Kustaa Kujala, "Kilpi Raittius Seuran 20 vuotisen toiminta historia", dated April, 1915. No study on the Finns in America is available in English; Finnish studies are only second-rate.

2 Christine Avghi Galitzi, A Study of Assimilation among the Roumanians in the United States ("Columbia University Studies" [1929]), p. 167.

3 Vital statistics from church records (Mannerkorpi, loc. cit.):












4 Note the average age of the foreign-born contractant. It is considerably higher than that of the foreign-born in the first period. As the age of arrival in America was the same in each case, it meant that the foreign-born in the intergeneration marriages had resided longer in America before marrying.

5 Minutes for October 18, 1914, of the Kilpi Temperance Society.

6 Indeed, marriage with a non-Finn was often encouraged by the immigrant parents (see below).

7 The Finnish contractants were all females. The implications of this will be discussed below.

Published in The American Journal of Sociology 42(1936), p. 371-382.

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