Kinship, heritage and ethnic choice: ethnolinguistic registration across four generations in contemporary Finland

We study how ethnolinguistic identity relates to ethnolinguistic background in contemporary Finland. This is a society in which two ethnolinguistic groups have coexisted for centuries and mixed unions are increasingly common. Using multigenerational data from the population register, we determine the ethnolinguistic affiliation of children born in 1990-2015, and their parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Our analyses reveal that ethnolinguistic affiliation is a more fluid and complex feature than can be expected when assessed only through own and parental characteristics. We find substantial diversity in ethnolinguistic background within the Swedish-speaking minority group, while most individuals in the Finnish-speaking majority group have a uniform background. There is a strong maternal bias in ethnolinguistic registration, a notable majority bias related to the family tree, and strong lineage persistence, particularly with respect to maternal grandmothers and maternal great grandmothers. We find also that mixed extended kinship networks have more members of the majority group than of the minority group. The underlying process has, thus, reproduced the majority-group identity in the population even when, as in this case, the majority of the couples in mixed unions favour the minority-group affiliation for their children. If this phenomenon is universal, it may explain the rapid decline of ethnic minority groups across the world. If the prevalence of births within mixed unions and the current preferences for ethnolinguistic registration of children within them remain, the Swedish-speaking minority group studied here is nevertheless not under any immediate risk of assimilation into the Finnish-speaking majority group.