• Alaka BasuAlaka Basu
      Alaka M. Basu is Professor, Development Sociology, Cornell University, and a member of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health
      Alessandro RosinaAlessandro Rosina
      Professor of Demography and Director, Center for Applied Statistics in Business and Economics, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
      Andrea BrandoliniAndrea Brandolini
      Head of Statistical Analysis Directorate, Bank of Italy
      Bruno MasquelierBruno Masquelier
      Professor of Demography, University of Louvain, Belgium
      Cheikh MbackéCheikh Mbacké
      Associate Professor, Sociology department, Laval University
      Cinzia ContiCinzia Conti
      Researcher at Istat, Head of Unit on Foreign Presence and Social Dynamics
      Corrado BonifaziCorrado Bonifazi
      Director of the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies, National Research Council, Rome Italy
      Ernestina CoastErnestina Coast
      Associate Professor of Population Studies, London School of Economics
      Wang FengFeng Wang
      Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, USA, and Professor at Fudan University, Shanghai, China fwang(at)
      Francesco BillariFrancesco Billari
      Professor of Sociology and Demography, Department of Social and Political Sciences, Bocconi University. • Personal webpage • francesco.billari(at)
      Gilles PisonGilles Pison
      Professor at Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle and Director of Research at the French National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) (Paris)
      Gustavo De SantisGustavo De Santis
      Professor of Demography, University of Florence, Italy
      Jacques VallinJacques Vallin
      Emeritus Research Director at INED, Paris; Honorary President of IUSSP
      John KnodelJohn Knodel
      Research Professor Emeritus, Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan (USA) and International staff, College of Populations Studies, Chulalongkorn University (Thailand)
      Letizia MencariniLetizia Mencarini
      Associate professor of Demography, Bocconi University - Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics and Public Policy & Collegio Carlo Alberto; P.I. ERC P.I. ERC project n. 313617 (2013-2018) SWELLFER
      Letizia TanturriLetizia Tanturri
      Associate Professor of Demography - Department of Statistical Sciences - University of Padova • Personal webpage ml.tanturri(at)
      Massimo livi BacciMassimo livi Bacci
      Emeritus Professor of Demography, University of Florence, Italy
      Monica Das GuptaMonica Das Gupta
      Research Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland, USA
      Paula Miranda-RibeiroPaula Miranda-Ribeiro
      Professor, Demography Department and Cedeplar, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil.
      Peter McDonaldPeter McDonald
      Professor of Demography in the Australian National University. Honorary President of IUSSP and winner of the Irene B. Taeuber Award
      Roberto ImpicciatoreRoberto Impicciatore
      Università di Bologna.
      Salvatore StrozzaSalvatore Strozza
      Professor of Demography, University Federico II, Naples (Italy)
      Stefano MolinaStefano Molina
      Senior Program Officer, Giovanni Agnelli Foundation, Italy
      our authors
    • N-IUSSP is a new IUSSP news magazine, which will disseminate scientific findings from demographic research carried out all over the world. The practical implications of current trends, the risks and potentialities of emerging situations, the pros and cons of specific laws are discussed in rigorous but plain language.

      Everybody is free to reproduce our articles, for free, provided the original source is cited.

      You are invited to contribute to this new publication: please check our guidelines and submit your 1000 word contribution to

In Sweden, women move to their partner’s home at union formation
En Suède, ce sont les femmes qui déménagent chez leur conjoint lors de la mise en couple

Maria Brandén, Karen Haandrikman

Women tend to adapt to their male spouse when families move. Maria Brandén and Karen Haandrikman examine whether this is also true for the moves couples make when forming a union. Analyses on Swedish population register data confirm suspicions and show that women more often move to their partner’s home, and move over longer distances, than men do.

Residential mobility as a gendered process

A large body of research has shown that couples tend to move for the sake of the man’s career rather than the woman’s (Cooke 2008). For instance, moving raises men’s earnings more than women’s (Cooke et al. 2009), couples are more likely to have moved for the sake of the man’s career than for the woman’s (Shihadeh 1991), and when faced with the hypothetical question of their partner being offered a well-paid job in another city, women state more often than men that they would move for their partner’s career (Brandén 2014).

Do these gendered patterns also shape the residential mobility that occurs in the process of union formation, at the start of co-residence?

In a recent paper (Brandén and Haandrikman 2018), we examined this by focusing on about 70,000 heterosexual couples in Sweden, who started their (married or unmarried) co-residence in the years 1994-2007. We analyzed whether women were more likely to move to where their male partner lived than vice versa, and whether women moved over longer distances than men did.

At the start of co-residence, more than half of all unions start in a home that is new for both partners. In 49 percent of all cases, only one partner moves; the woman moves to the man’s home in 28 percent of all cases, while the man moves to the woman’s home 21 percent of the time (Figure 1). When at least one partner moves, either to their partner’s home or to a joint new residence (72 percent of all men and 79 percent of all women), women on average move over substantially longer distances than men do: about 59 kms against 50, and the median distance moved is also slightly higher (8 kms vs 6) (Figure 2).

Long-distance migration is likely to have far greater consequences for individuals than short range (residential) mobility. Therefore, we conducted separate analyses for partners who lived close to each other before cohabitation (less than 50 kilometers) and for couples where at least one partner had to move a substantial distance. Overall, we found larger gender differences if couples lived far apart prior to cohabitation (figures 3 and 4). In fact, among couples who lived close to each other before cohabitation, the women and men who moved travelled the same average distance (19 kilometers).

Lack of ties or a question of bargaining?

There are multiple reasons why these gender differences can emerge. We expected that gender differences in the number and strength of local ties would matter. Local ties, such as ties to family living nearby, owning a house, or having stable employment, are usually stronger for men, as women are typically a few years younger than men when they start cohabiting. Such ties tend to prevent people from moving, or from moving longer distances. However, our study showed that gender differences in moving at cohabitation remained very similar after adjusting for such differences, indicating that they do not explain much of the overall gender differences (figures 3 and 4, comparing Models 1 and 2), especially not when partners lived close to each other before cohabitation.

Next, we tested the importance of the fact that the man’s resources within a couple – measured as advantages in age, socio-economic characteristics of the neighborhood, educational level, housing and employment – often outweigh the woman’s. This is synthetically labeled “bargaining power” in figures 3 and 4 (comparing Model 2 to Model 3). Whereas Model 2 controls for compositional differences between women and men at the time they are forming a union, Model 3 adjusts for who in the couple has, for instance, higher or lower income and so on. Indeed, this proved to be of major importance for understanding why women move disproportionally often, and over longer distances, at the start of cohabitation. For partners living close to each other before cohabitation, nearly all gender differences in the likelihood of moving stem from the man’s relative bargaining advantage; for those couples, no gender differences remain after controlling for these advantages. Hence, one key mechanism behind why women seem to adapt more to their men than vice versa is that the man has an advantageous bargaining position, for example, in terms of being more established in the labor market, being older, and having a better housing situation.

Men’s relative bargaining advantage is also important if partners lived far apart prior to co-residence. However, for these couples, a substantial share of the gender differences remains unexplained, even after adjusting for this. This remaining excess female likelihood of moving, and their excess distance moved, might be interpreted as indicators of traditional gender norms making the woman adapt more to the man than vice versa. For example, gendered norms regarding women’s and men’s roles in society could make couples consider it to be a larger sacrifice for the man to give up his career by moving than for the woman to do the same.

Starting off on the wrong foot?

In conclusion, our research adds a new dimension to the family migration literature by suggesting that even at the start of cohabitation couples’ residential decisions are made in favor of the man rather than the woman. We surmise that this initial move, apparently neutral and usually unnoticed, may be more important that it seems, as it could affect women’s social lives and careers, with consequences that may follow them throughout their lives. This is definitely a subject that warrants more attention than it has received until now.


Brandén M., Haandrikman K. (2018) Who moves to whom? Gender differences in the distance moved to a shared residence. European Journal of Population

Brandén M. (2014). Gender, gender ideology, and couples’ migration decisions. Journal of Family Issues, 35(7), 950–971.

Cooke T.J. (2008). Migration in a family way. Population, Space and Place, 14(4), 255–265.

Cooke T.J., Boyle, P., Couch, K., and Feijten, P. (2009). A longitudinal analysis of family migration and the gender gap in earnings in the United States and Great Britain. Demography, 46(1), 147–167.

Shihadeh E.S. (1991). The prevalence of husband-centered migration: Employment consequences for married mothers. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53(2), 432–444.



By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.