Arriving in a country like Sweden can reshape dynamics between the men and women who make the journey, he says. Men who dominated their families because they had the economic power in their home countries lose that power when they integrate into a more gender-equal country like Sweden. They react to this loss of power in two ways, according to Darvishpour—they either adjust to their loss of power and accept being more equal with their wives, as Hassan did, or they try to reassert their lost power. In some cases, women submit to this. In others, they resist it, which can lead to divorce.
Women from patriarchal societies, after all, gain power when they integrate into a country like Sweden. There are more economic opportunities for them relative to their home countries, and resources for women’s rights are more developed—it’s easier for a woman to divorce her husband, or to live on her own, for example. The welfare system is also extensive in Sweden, meaning that even women of low socioeconomic status can leave their husbands with no jobs and receive low-cost health care, education, job training, and a stipend from the government. In Denmark, a country similar to Sweden because it has an extensive safety net and many opportunities for women, immigrant women initiated divorce more than men did, and the welfare state was instrumental in “liberating women and children from life in dysfunctional families,” a 2015 study found. (This safety net is less extensive in the United States, which may be one reason why divorce rates of immigrants are still lower than that of the native-born population.)
Another paper studying six Iranian divorcees who had arrived in Sweden still married found that men adjusted more slowly to new gender norms than women did. One male interviewee whose wife had left him told interviewers that she started changing once she began attending Swedish for Foreigners, a class in which immigrants learn the local language and customs. “She started behaving like a rival or business partner, trying to confirm her share in everything,” he told an interviewer. Another Iranian immigrant told interviewers that she and her husband started fighting when she began making more money than he did in Sweden, and asked him to start contributing equally in terms of childcare and other household duties, but he refused. “The change in power relations can intensify the problems in bad relationships,” Darvishpour said.
Some women in Sweden prefer not to work. After a decade in Sweden, just 64 percent of migrant women were working, compared to 80 percent of native Swedes, according to a 2014 report funded by the European Union. But in his own study of Iranian immigrants to Sweden, Darvishpour found that men often find immigration more challenging than women do. Many of the men he spoke to had good jobs in their home countries, and were often unemployed in Sweden, or working jobs that they were overqualified for. They suddenly had a lower status than they did back home. The women he spoke to, on the other hand, did not have as many economic opportunities in their home countries, so they had little change in status when they arrived in Sweden. If they hadn’t been working at home, nothing changed when they arrived; if they had been working and found a job when they arrived, they became better off in Sweden.