Biographic Consequences of Parent Child-Separation during the Migration Process: The Case of Guest-Worker Migration to Germany


Theoretical background and objectives

Research on youth migration in Germany has given little attention to transnational family relations so far. The project explores both the extent and the long-term individual consequences of migration-related family separation during childhood. The first part of the study focuses on guest-workers' immigration strategies in order to explain the development and consequences of transnational family relations in the context of the recruitment of "gastarbeiter" in Germany. The study differentiates between guest workers from Southern Europe (Greece, Italy, Spain, Yugosla­via and Portugal) and from Islamic Mediterranean countries (Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia). Survey data are used to construct and describe "migration chains" in order to test hypotheses on transnational family relations and the extent of resulting parent-child separation. The analysis of qualitative data gathered from interviews with young migrants living in Germany permits the investigation of the familial decision-making processes concerning migration and the cones­quences of separation from parents experienced during childhood.

At the second stage, the project also analyses the attachment behaviour of migrants who, in the context of immigration to Germany, temporarily lived in transnational families during their childhood. The idea that a separation from parents experienced during childhood will influence the general attachment behaviour forms the core thesis of attachment theory (Bowlby 1969, Ainsworth 1985a). But instead of concentrating on immediate social consequences of migration-related parental loss on the child-parent-relationship, the study analyses the marital status of adults depending on whether they experienced separation from their parent(s) due to migration during their childhood.

Research design, data and methodology

Data are analysed descriptively and by means of logistic regression models, using the German Mikrozensus 2005. Additionally, a series of interviews has been conducted with young Moroccan migrants who had been temporarily separated from their parents.


The extent of separation experiences differs according to ethnic background. Children with an Islamic Mediterranean background have a significantly higher hazard of experiencing a migration-related separation from one of their parents (mostly, from their father) than those from Southern European countries. A temporary loss of both parents was observed more frequently among young migrants with a European origin. The interviews reveal that it is much more difficult for the children to deal with the absence of both parents. Regression results show that the experience of a separation from parents during childhood significantly reduces the chances of marriage among adult migrants, and that the age at separation plays an important role, while the duration does not show any effects.

Main content

Ausgewählte Publikationen

Hajji, Rahim (2008): Transnationale Familienverhältnisse, Verlusterfahrung und Bindungsverhalten. WZB Discussion Paper SP IV 2008-705. Berlin: WZB.
Hajji, Rahim (2008): Transnationale Familien. Zur Entstehung, zum Ausmaß und zu den Konsequenzen der migrationsbedingten Eltern-Kind-Trennung in Familien aus den klassischen Gastarbeiterländern in Deutschland. WZB Discussion Paper SP IV 2008-704. Berlin: WZB.