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1The mobility of old people is a focus of growing attention. Among immigrants, as among the rest of the population, retirement results in increased mobility, with some retirees even choosing to return to their home country. In this article, Claudine Attias-donfut and François-Charles Wolff examine the burial location preferences of persons born outside France. Using a survey conducted among immigrants aged 45 to 70, they show that people are by no means indifferent to the question of their future burial site, especially as they increase in age. The determinants of the preference for burial in France or in the home country are numerous and complex. Women choose their home country less often than men, and immigrants living in France from an early age tend to prefer burial in their country of adoption. Family geography also plays a key role in determining preferences. The authors show that other independent factors are also involved, since for an equal duration of migration, Muslims always have a stronger desire than others to be buried in their home country.

2Whether they have left their home country to work or to be reunited with family members, the majority of immigrants are faced, as they grow old, with the question of where to spend their retirement, and where to end their life and be buried. Attitudes to these issues relate back, in a more symbolic manner, to the choice of temporary or permanent settlement in the host country.

3It is common practice for North African persons who die in France to be returned to their home country for burial. Chaib (2000, p. 23) has pointed out the importance of this custom, among not only first-generation but also second-generation immigrants. Clearly, a desire to accomplish the religious rituals in an appropriate manner may entail a preference for burial in the home country, though the choice may also be governed by considerations of an economic, legal or environmental nature, linked to the conditions in which funerals and burial are performed (Auby, 1997; Barrau, 1992). For Samaoli (1998), this can be partly explained by the scarcity of Muslim cemeteries and of Muslim areas in French municipal cemeteries, though their proportion is increasing in large towns and cities.

4The question is not specific to Muslims however; it concerns immigrants of all religions, and those with no religion, and is both national and international in scope. It is also a very ancient question, both in France and elsewhere, as shown by the many “routes of death” associated with events marking the history of the main religions (Chaib, 2000, pp. 35-36). On the margins of religious tradition for example, Isambert (1961, p. 109) studied the funeral convoys leaving Paris and observed a spectacular increase in the proportion of bodies taken out of the capital for burial, from 1.8% in 1884 to 25% in the late 1950s. These transported bodies were mainly those of working class people who had migrated to Paris from the rural provinces, and who had become largely “dechristianized”, as testified by the large number of civil funerals. The growing practice of repatriating bodies to their home regions was, according to the author, an indication of closer family ties with the provinces.

5The importance attached by individuals to their future place of burial varies according to individual and family histories, cultures and beliefs. It may be crucial for migrants with a strong attachment to traditions from which they have been separated. When the rites and traditions are lost, the burial site is still invested with major significance, linked to a new funerary ideology (Vernant, 1989). Beyond the religious sentiments with which it is often associated, it holds symbolic, imaginative and relational significance.

6In this article, we will analyse the numerous determinants of burial location preferences using data from a recent national survey of retirement among the immigrant population in France (Passage à la retraite des immigrés, PRI). We hypothesize that these preferences involve three major categories of factors: territorial attachments (affective and social attachments to the home country and to France), religious affiliation, and attachment to the family via kinship ties. These hypotheses are based upon the anthropological literature on death and its ritualization.

Attachment to territories

7In all cemeteries, on both private or public land, the arrangement of graves follows a specific social order. Kinship groups and families are buried together. These different ways of being “with one’s own” help to explain why those who have emigrated wish to be buried at home and to enjoy the “hospitality of the homeland” (Le Grand-Sébille and Zonabend, 2004, p. 971). The deceased also symbolically accomplish their wish to maintain their place, and that of their family, in their original social group, by choosing to be laid to rest with other departed members of this same group.

8In certain traditions, funerary rites are associated with territories. This is the case for holy places or pilgrimage sites invested with supernatural powers, such as Nejed or Kerbela in Iraq, the cemetery of Alyscamps in Arles on the Rhone, or the cemetery surrounding the Buddhist monastery of Koyasan in Tokyo for example (Chaib, 2000, p. 36). It is also the case for societies which practice ancestor worship and whose territory is sacred (Pacaud, 2003). Chaouite (2000) observes that the word “repatriation” evokes the notion of a “territory of attachment” with symbolic ties linking individuals to their homeland. Attachment to one’s homeland may create a desire to be buried there, even when there are few remaining links with family or ancestors. In this case, it is less the cemetery itself than the geographical, national or ethnic environment that are the invested with significance.


9The religious component of funeral ceremonies has remained very strong, despite the decline in religious observance [1]. French law guarantees freedom of choice in religious funerary rituals, while stipulating certain constraints or limits. Indeed, since the legislation laid down by Napoleon applicable to all official denominations of the time (Christian and Jewish), cemeteries have become increasingly secularized, notably following the major secular laws of the 1880s. Religious practices have adapted accordingly, sometimes by inventing new ways of ritualizing memory, as admirably demonstrated by the history of funerary rites among the Jews of France (Hidiroglou, 1999).

10More recently, the circular of 1991 asserts both the public status of cemeteries and their neutrality, while also guaranteeing the rights of Muslims to perform their own funerary rituals. So for Muslims, there is no incompatibility between compliance with religious requirements and burial in France, though there is a shortage of Muslim cemeteries (Aggoun, 2003). Muslim funeral rites can be respected without difficulty in all locations as they are extremely simple and the deceased must, in principle, be buried without delay (Ballanfat, 2004, p. 705). Though death in a distant place, far from home and family, is traditionally seen as a “bad death” (Thomas, 1982), death and burial in France do not necessarily have this negative image for immigrants.

Filiation or the generational dilemma

11The cemetery consecrates filiation and family continuity, and memory of the deceased is an integral component of all kinship ties. The timescale of kinship transcends that of individual lives and provides a means to escape the finite nature of existence. According to Déchaux (1997, p. 281), filiation and memory of the deceased both have the same eschatological purpose, that of warding off annihilation: “memory of ancestors provides a sense of belonging to a natural order, that of the perpetuation of life as testified by the succession of family generations”. Two affiliation processes are involved: the union of the individual with everything represented by the chain of generations, and survival by proxy with “the individual counting on his presence after death through the memory of his loved ones” (p. 232). Applied to the burial site, these procedures are in fact very intimately linked: the local concentration of graves is the sign of family continuity and provides a means to symbolize this union, provided that the link between the living and the dead, who thus survive by proxy, is maintained. By joining those of the past, the graves of future generations guarantee continuity, while memory is perpetuated by the living, who visit these graves and ensure their upkeep.

12Migration is liable to introduce spatial discontinuity between the place where people are buried (in the home country) and the place where they live (now elsewhere), thereby breaking the territorial link in the chain of generations. The only two options are to break with the dead or to break with the living. Burial in the country of adoption consecrates the break with the past and with the dead, forcing those who make this choice to abandon any hope of joining the chain of generations, though it preserves their chance of being remembered by the living and hence their survival by proxy. Conversely, being laid to rest with one’s ancestors as a mark of loyalty to family history may cut individuals off from the living generations, those of the future, and compromise their chances of survival by proxy, since their graves are likely to be abandoned by the living. So migrants whose offspring have settled in France may thus face a dilemma.

13Whatever the feeling of attachment or loyalty to a place, to individuals or to a lineage, the choice is not simple. In the face of contradictory demands, the result is sometimes a “makeshift” compromise solution. This is the case, for example, among immigrant Chinese families who, though followers of popular Taoism which favours burial, resign themselves to cremation because it is less expensive and the ashes can be kept in the family’s home or returned to the home country (Trong Hien Dinh, 1990, recounted by Chaib, 2000, p. 65). The Soninke and Manjak immigrants in Marseilles provide a second example (Petit, 2002). The former are Muslim and repatriate the bodies of their dead, while the latter are Catholic and, in the vast majority of cases, bury their dead in France. Nevertheless, the Manjak repatriate their dead in a symbolic manner by sending the “funerary box” containing the dead person’s effects back to the home village. This box is the centrepiece of a funeral ceremony which ends the ritual cycle in the home country.

14The purpose of this article is to study burial location preferences. After describing the data used, we will examine preferences according to the characteristics and migration trajectory of survey respondents. The determinants of these preferences are then analysed in relation to the main factors presented in this introduction, i.e. attachment to the home country and to France, religious affiliation and kinship ties.

I – The data

15The survey on ageing and retirement of immigrants in France (PRI survey) concerns immigrants living in France in 2003 [2]. Conducted in the initiative of the national pension fund CNAV and in collaboration with National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), the survey took place between November 2002 and February 2003 on an immigrant population aged between 45 and 70, living in France. The immigrant population is defined by place of birth (outside France) and nationality at birth (non-French). French citizens born abroad are excluded, but naturalized French citizens are not. The scope of the survey was defined on the basis of two initial methodological options (Attias-Donfut, 2004). The first option was to include immigrants of all geographical origins. By including a representative sample of foreign persons born abroad, the survey aims to establish an overall picture of the immigrant population, whatever their country of birth. The relatively large sample size – more than 6,000 observations – makes it possible to cover the countries most strongly represented among the immigrant population (Spain, Italy, Portugal, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) and to gain an overall vision of the situation. The second option concerns the choice of age groups – from 45 to 70 years. The survey focuses on the period of life from maturity to retirement and takes account of the age structures of immigrants from different groups of countries. The lower age limit of 45 makes it possible to include more immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb, whose age structure is younger than that of Europeans who migrated in earlier years.

16The national survey was conducted in twelve regions of metropolitan France which count 90% of the country’s immigrants. The random sample was drawn by INSEE from the 1999 population census: 12,000 “address files” of dwellings occupied by at least one person aged 45 to 70 born abroad to non-French parents were drawn to obtain a final sample of 6,211 persons living in a private household [3]. The survey collected information on the characteristics of immigrants, their migration history, their family circle, their social network and their transfers of savings. The section on retirement and retirement projects included questions on their intentions to stay in France or to return to their home country. They were also asked about their attitudes and opinions concerning retirement, family ties, religion, society in the host country and the home country.

17The aim of the survey was to gain a clearer understanding of how immigrants experience the transition from work to retirement in France and to observe how their lives are affected by this transition. This period in life is a good time to assess the life trajectory and to examine how the effects of the culture inherited from the home country are interlinked with those of schooling, socio-occupational category, social status and standard of living in the country of residence. Focusing on ageing and retirement, the approach of the PRI survey is different to that of most other migration studies, which concentrate mainly on the issue of integration.

18Regarding the topic covered in the present article, i.e. relative burial location preferences, the respondents were asked the following question: “Where would you prefer to be buried or cremated: in France, in your home country, in another country, or no preference?”. This information is not available for spouses however [4]. Information on the burial location of the parents, when deceased, was also obtained via the following question, asked for the father and mother respectively: “In which country was your father (mother) buried or cremated?” The place – France or home country – where the parents spent the majority of their lives and their retirement is also known.

19The immigrants’ profiles differ substantially from one country of origin to another (Table 1). Migrants from northern Europe, like those coming from the American continent, are characterized by a higher proportion of women, longer schooling and higher income. They are more often home owners and have lived in France for a slightly shorter time. Migrants from southern Europe are more often married, count equal numbers of men and women, have lower incomes and less schooling, though they have been in France for longer. It is among migrants from North Africa that the proportion of men is highest; they have the fewest years of schooling, are rarely home owners and have the lowest incomes. Last, there are more men than women among migrants from the Middle East and Asia, they have been in France for the shortest time (around 25 years), and Asian migrants much more often have French nationality than the others.

Table 1

Description of the sample by geographical region of origin

Table 1
Characteristics Northern Europe Eastern Europe Southern Europe Maghreb Other African countries America Middle East Asia Overall Women (%) 61.0 59.9 48.2 40.6 39.3 63.2 41.4 45.7 46.4 Mean age 56.8 56.8 56.9 55.5 52.9 53.4 53.5 53.8 55.8 Marital status (%) Single 8.6 4.5 4.6 3.3 7.1 11.2 3.6 7.7 4.9 Married 70.7 74.0 80.3 82.2 75.7 67.2 86.5 79.4 79.6 Divorced 13.3 11.9 7.7 8.3 12.4 16.8 5.6 5.5 8.7 Widowed 7.4 9.7 7.5 6.0 4.7 4.8 4.4 7.4 6.7 Mean number of years of schooling 13.6 11.3 7.2 5.4 9.9 14.0 8.4 11.4 7.8 Income (thousands of euros) 34.9 23.5 23.1 18.8 24.2 29.7 24.9 24.8 22.9 Home owners (%) 79.5 55.8 66.2 29.9 27.7 56.0 47.0 54.3 50.5 Mean duration of stay (years) 27.7 31.7 37.8 31.7 24.6 23.4 25.6 24.3 32.4 French nationality (%) 37.4 64.7 34.8 26.8 44.3 49.6 32.7 62.0 35.8 Location of family (%) Parents alive in France 7.7 8.9 19.2 9.1 5.5 6.4 6.4 17.5 12.8 Parents alive in home country 38.3 32.3 26.0 37.4 40.4 52.8 37.8 30.7 33.1 Siblings in France 14.4 18.6 55.6 49.0 42.2 19.2 38.2 45.4 46.0 Siblings in home country 49.1 51.3 61.5 80.3 87.3 64.8 86.1 69.0 69.6 Children in France 72.7 81.0 91.9 90.8 88.1 78.4 89.2 89.0 88.9 Children in home country 26.6 16.0 11.0 17.5 20.8 16.8 18.3 11.0 15.6 Other relatives in home country 86.7 80.7 88.9 82.7 86.5 85.6 88.8 70.2 85.1 Number of observations 444 269 2,322 2,095 379 125 251 326 6,211 The different geographical zones include the following countries: Northern Europe: Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Austria; Eastern Europe: Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Ukraine, Russia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia; Armenia, Georgia and Kazakhstan were also included in this group; Southern Europe: Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Andorra; Maghreb: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia; Other African countries: Egypt, Sudan, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Cape Verde, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, Congo, Congo (D.R.), Rwanda, Angola, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagas car, Mauritius, Comoros, Zambia, South Africa; America: United States, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Salvador, Cuba, Haiti, Colombia, Venezuela, Guiana, Peru, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina; Middle East: Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Israel; Cyprus was also included in this group; Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Mongolia, China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong; New Zealand was also included in this group Population: immigrants aged 45 to 70. Source: PRI survey 2003.

Description of the sample by geographical region of origin

20In our empirical analysis, the way in which different migrant profiles affect burial location preferences is taken into account. In the absence of quantitative references, our approach is mainly exploratory in nature. The data of the PRI survey provide several indicators of the three dimensions mentioned in the introduction. The first is approached via questions relating to migration experience and history, revealing objective and subjective attachments to the home country and to France. The second is determined via a direct question on religion, a subject rarely evoked in French surveys. Last, the geography of kinship ties can be reconstituted via questions on the place of residence of family members, children and parents.

II – Burial location preferences

21Burial location preferences are divided into three major groups (Table 2). The first and largest corresponds to individuals who wish to be buried in France. They represent 41.8% of the sample. The second group comprises persons with a preference for burial in their home country. More than a third of respondents expressed this preference (34.6%), though they fall into two separate categories. Though living in France at the time of the survey, some plan to return to their home country after retirement, while others prefer to stay in France until they die and then be buried in their home country. The final quarter of the sample includes individuals with no stated preference, either because they are indifferent (18.9%) or, more rarely, because they are undecided (slightly more than 4%).

Table 2

Burial location preferences of immigrants in France

Table 2
Preferred location Men Women Overall % Number % Number % Number In France 38.3 1,274 45.6 1,315 41.8 2,624 In the home country 37.5 1,248 31.4 906 34.6 2,172 In another country 0.6 19 0.4 10 0.5 29 Indifferent 19.8 658 17.8 514 18.9 1,184 Don’t know 3.9 130 4.8 137 4.3 269 Total 100.0 3,329 100.0 2,882 100.0 6,278 Population: Immigrants aged 45 to 70. Source: PRI survey 2003.

Burial location preferences of immigrants in France

22Quite significant differences between men and women are observed. Men less often wish to be buried in France (38.3% of men versus 45.6% of women), while women are less attached to burial in the home country (31.4% of women versus 37.5% of men). The proportion of indifferent or undecided individuals is practically identical for both sexes.

23To characterize the individual profiles associated with each of these choices, we performed a multivariate analysis using a multinomial logit model. We wanted to identify the factors influencing the preference for burial in the home country rather than in France and those which explain an attitude of indifference with respect to burial in France. The individual characteristics and geographical origins of the respondents were entered into the models presented in Table 3. The geographical origin enabled us to control for the heterogeneity arising from the initial geographical situations, given that migration trajectories differ, in principle, according to origin. Variables concerning the family’s location were also entered.

Table 3

Determinants of burial location preferences of immigrants in France(a)

Table 3
Overall Men Women In home country Indifferent In home country Indifferent In home country Indifferent Respondent’s characteristics Female 0.767*** 0.822*** Age 0.949*** 0.964*** 0.936*** 0.951*** 0.963*** 0.978** Marital status Single 0.697* 1.110 0.566** 1.045 0.885 1.143 Married (Ref.) 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 Divorced 0.637*** 0.893 0.679 0.963 0.641** 0.866 Widowed 0.629*** 0.643*** 0.324*** 0.776 0.717* 0.622** Perceived state of health Very good (Ref.) 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 Good 1.166 1.300** 1.302* 1.330* 0.964 1.248 Fair 1.272* 1.312** 1.382** 1.508*** 1.129 1.134 Poor 1.136 1.381** 1.169 1.646** 1.055 1.113 Years of schooling 0.910*** 0.950** 0.893 0.911*** 0.932* 0.981 Years of schooling squared 1.027* 1.039*** 1.036* 1.058*** 1.014 1.024 Household income 1.156 1.824** 1.365 2.337** 0.985 1.408 Household income squared 0.953 0.852 0.930 0.823 0.990 0.877 Home owner 0.455*** 0.715*** 0.452*** 0.707*** 0.462*** 0.742*** Duration of stay (years) 0.969*** 0.973*** 0.979*** 0.976*** 0.956*** 0.964*** French nationality 0.257*** 0.495*** 0.257*** 0.466*** 0.238*** 0.506*** Geographical region of origin(b) Northern Europe 0.484*** 0.686** 0.336*** 0.471*** 0.591* 0.813 Eastern Europe 0.829 0.624*** 1.144 0.829 0.654 0.501*** Southern Europe (Ref.) 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 Maghreb 4.183*** 1.320*** 4.394*** 1.429*** 4.062*** 1.194 Other African countries 2.325*** 1.089 3.157*** 1.176 1.487 0.960 America 1.012 1.063 1.202 0.740 0.772 1.172 Middle East 2.280*** 0.741 2.885*** 0.925 1.720* 0.549* Asia 0.417*** 0.514*** 0.547** 0.449*** 0.295*** 0.584** Location of family Parents alive in France 0.441*** 0.638*** 0.314*** 0.433*** 0.660* 0.968 Parents alive in home country 1.180* 1.269*** 1.002 1.109 1.424*** 1.462*** Siblings in France 0.915 0.910 0.949 0.905 0.911 0.943 Siblings in home country 1.619*** 1.404*** 1.606*** 1.290** 1.617*** 1.519*** Children in France 1.070 0.959 1.157 0.999 0.946 0.933 Children in home country 1.965*** 1.553*** 1.984*** 1.553*** 1.925*** 1.545*** Number of observations 6,211 3,329 2,882 Pseudo R² 0.209 0.199 0.229 Log likelihood –5272.9 –2876.7 –2355.1 (a) The model used is a multinomial logit model, the reference category being preference for burial in France. The table presents the odds ratios. The significance thresholds are respectively 1%(***), 5%(**) and 10%(*). (b) See Table 1. Interpretation: all other things being equal, the chance that immigrants who have acquired French nationality prefer to be buried in the home country rather than in France (reference category) is 74% (10.257=0.743) lower than that of immigrants who kept their foreign nationality (reference modality). Population: Immigrants aged 45 to 70. Source: PRI survey 2003

Determinants of burial location preferences of immigrants in France(a)

24Preferences vary firstly by sex. All other things being equal, women less often wish to be buried in the home country than men. There is 23% less chance that a women will prefer burial in the home country over burial in France. This may reflect a “pure” effect of the sex variable. Tribalat (1996) showed in a previous survey of foreign-born populations that women are more likely than men to wish to stay in France. Other factors may account for these differences. With a longer life expectancy, women will probably spend a longer retirement period in France and be more strongly attached to the country. It is also more difficult for surviving spouses to organize the future repatriation of their own body to the home country. Last, the migration profiles of men are more closely linked to work, with a return to the home country after retirement.

25Compared with married people, those who are single, widowed or divorced at the time of the survey less frequently prefer burial in the home country rather than France. Only widowhood reduces the probability of being indifferent about burial in France. The influence of sex and marital status shows that decisions made by spouses may be closely interlinked. When separate models are estimated for men and women, they reveal that the probability of choosing the home country over France is much smaller for widowers than for widows [5]. Since women more frequently wish to be buried in France (assuming that this was indeed the case for those who are deceased [6]) widowers will have a higher probability than widows of having buried their spouse in France. Consequently, they are also more likely than widows to express this preference.

26Burial location preferences are stronger for older immigrants. For a given duration of stay, the older the respondents, the smaller the proportion who report a preference for burial in the home country rather than France. This reflects a selection effect. At the time of the survey, elderly persons still living in France doubtless have stronger attachments to the country. Regarding the subjective state of health, persons in less good health more often prefer to be buried in the home country [7]. This is consistent with the study by Khlat and Courbage (1995, p. 29) which reveals the below-average mortality of Moroccan men in France while hypothesizing that male emigration may affect mortality measures since men in poor health may prefer to end their life and be buried in their home country.

27Individual choices are also steered by economic factors. Interpretation is complex however, given the variability of funeral costs in France and elsewhere. Though repatriation of bodies is expensive, the cost should be weighed against the cost of a funeral in France, which may be higher than in other countries, such as those of North Africa [8]. There is a general uptrend in spending on funerals, linked to a rise in the standard of living, in parallel with a trend towards greater simplicity and austerity in the choice of coffins and grave monuments (Barrau, 1992). Transporting a body to the home country is expensive and this service cannot be offered with the low-cost funerals (in some cases practically free of charge) to which the poorest families are entitled. All in all, though the length of schooling has a somewhat negative effect on the choice of the home country rather than France, income level is not a relevant independent variable in the regression.

28Home ownership, on the other hand, is highly determining. Compared with non-home owning immigrants, home owners much more frequently prefer burial in France over burial in the home country. This variable is closer to an integration indicator than an economic indicator, since property has low liquidity. It would appear that tenants include more persons wishing to return to their home country at some time in their life or who make frequent return trips. Conversely, the purchase of a primary residence indicates a desire to spend one’s old age and be buried in France.

29This last variable suggests that the migration trajectory has a strong impact on the choice of burial location. One question concerns the moment in time when respondents left their home country to come and live in France. This refers to the time when they came to settle permanently in France, excluding short-term visits, and the duration of migration (or duration of stay) used in the multivariate analysis is deduced from this information. This variable has a very strong negative influence on the probability of preferring burial in the home country (and on that of being indifferent) rather than in France. Each additional year spent in France reduces by 3.1% the preference for burial in the home country. Acquisition of French nationality also has an influence: after controlling for effects linked to geographical origin, we observe that compared with immigrants who have become French, those who have not been naturalized much more frequently wish to be buried in their home country rather than France. Likewise, a larger proportion are indifferent.

30Certain aspects of their migration history shed further light on these preferences (Table 4). The frequency of visits to the home country is an indicator of its importance in immigrants’ lives. Among those who have never or only once returned to their home country since settling in France, 7 respondents in 10 report a preference for burial in France. This proportion is 40% lower for those who have returned to their home country several times. Asked about the main reason for coming to France, immigrants mention insecurity in their home country (12%), work-related reasons (48%), family reunion (28%) or other reasons (12%). It is the respondents whose main reason for immigrating is the existence of a threat or a sense of insecurity in the home country who most frequently wish to be buried in France (64.8% of cases) [9]. Preference for burial in the home country is slightly more frequent for respondents who migrated for work-related reasons (40.1% prefer burial in the home country and 36.9% in France).

Table 4

Burial location preferences by migration trajectory

Table 4
Respondent’s characteristics Burial location preferences (%) Number In France In home country Indifferent Don’t know Return trips to home country Yes, several times 37.8 38.2 19.4 4.6 5,418 Yes, once 69.2 12.5 16.2 2.1 328 No, never 72.3 9.6 15.4 2.8 436 Main reason for coming to France Insecurity in home country 64.8 14.5 16.0 4.7 725 Work-related reason 36.9 40.1 18.9 4.1 2,972 Family reunion 38.4 39.6 17.8 4.3 1,736 Other reason 47.7 22.8 24.6 4.9 749 Discrimination in home country Yes, severe 60.7 18.4 16.7 4.2 526 Yes, moderate 49.9 27.5 18.6 4.0 425 No, not at all 39.3 37.1 19.3 4.3 5,216 Sense of being unwelcome in France Often 41.9 37.9 17.7 2.5 322 Sometimes 37.4 40.8 17.4 4.4 936 Rarely 40.2 36.9 19.0 3.9 921 Never 43.3 32.7 19.4 4.5 4,001 Choice of other retirees from the same country Stay in France 72.8 15.0 10.4 1.9 635 Return to live in home country 44.8 34.4 14.6 6.3 96 Make return trips 34.4 44.6 17.9 3.2 285 Few contacts in home country 76.9 8.1 12.1 2.9 173 Choice of other non-retired persons from the same country Stay in France 52.6 25.6 18.3 3.6 1,699 Return to live in home country 25.8 46.7 22.5 5.1 454 Make return trips 22.9 49.1 23.8 4.2 1,258 Few contacts in home country 45.5 21.5 26.2 6.7 549 Non-retired respondent’s preferences for retirement Stay in France 55.2 21.8 18.6 4.4 2,548 Return to home country 4.9 75.4 18.1 1.6 309 Make return trips 12.7 57.1 26.0 4.3 1,036 Don’t know 20.5 36.3 32.7 10.5 419 Note: Persons preferring burial in another country are not included because their number is very small (29 observations). Population: Immigrants aged 45 to 70. Source: PRI survey 2003.

Burial location preferences by migration trajectory

31Respondents were also asked about the customs of other citizens of their country who they know and who are living in France: do they tend to go home, to make return trips or to stay in France after retiring? Preference for burial in France is much more frequent if other immigrants from the same country choose to be buried in France. Conversely, preference for burial in the home country is more frequent if the norm observed in the survey is to return home or to make frequent return trips between France and the home country.

32Regarding individual preferences about the place of residence after retirement, the proportion of non-retired immigrants who wish to spend their retirement in their home country is low (7.1%). Of these, 75.4% wish to be buried in their home country, while among persons preferring to spend their retirement in France the proportion is 21.8%, and among individuals planning to make return trips between France and the home country it is 57.1%.

III – Influence of the home country and of religion

33Persons born outside France form a heterogeneous population from countries with very different cultures and with specific migration profiles (Table 1) [10]. Not all origins can be specifically analysed, since in some cases the numbers in the sample are very small.

34On a global level, the majority of respondents born in Europe report a preference for burial in France (in 55.5% of cases), whereas the attachment to the home country is very strong (57% of cases) for migrants of African origin (Table 5). The same applies to immigrants from the Middle East, while those from Asia prefer to be buried in France. These are crude results however, and do not take account of the length of time already spent in France, which varies according to the region of origin.

Table 5

Burial location preferences by country of origin

Table 5
Geographical region(a) Burial location preferences (%) Number In France In home country Indifferent Don’t know Europe 55.5 18.6 21.5 4.4 3,028 Northern Europe 56.8 10.6 29.0 3.6 442 Belgium 56.4 11.8 30.0 1.8 110 Germany 62.4 7.1 24.8 5.7 141 United Kingdom 52.9 8.2 35.3 3.5 85 Southern Europe 54.4 20.5 20.6 4.5 2,319 Portugal 31.5 34.4 28.7 5.4 1,000 Spain 66.5 12.1 17.1 4.3 602 Italy 76.9 8.1 11.9 3.1 705 Eastern Europe 62.9 15.4 16.5 5.2 267 Africa 23.6 57.0 15.4 4.0 2,455 Maghreb 23.0 59.2 13.7 4.1 2,078 Morocco 22.2 60.4 14.5 2.9 781 Algeria 21.1 58.9 14.5 5.5 961 Tunisia 30.1 57.4 9.5 3.0 336 Other African countries 27.1 44.8 24.7 3.5 377 America 40.3 18.6 33.1 8.1 124 Middle East 29.6 51.2 16.8 2.4 250 Turkey 20.0 68.2 11.2 0.6 170 Asia 63.1 12.3 19.1 5.5 325 Note: Persons preferring burial in another country are not included because their number is very small (29 observations). (a) See Table 1 for the definition of geographical regions. Population: Immigrants aged 45 to 70. Source: PRI survey 2003.

Burial location preferences by country of origin

35This doubtless explains the specific traits brought to light by a more detailed analysis. Immigrants from northern Europe often express a desire to be buried in France, while few prefer the home country (around 10%) [11]. The same applies to immigrants from Spain and Italy, with almost 7 respondents in 10 preferring burial in France. Immigrants of Portuguese origin stand apart however, with 34.4% wishing to be buried in Portugal versus 31.5% in France. Immigrants from Eastern Europe most frequently wish to be buried in France, with more than 6 respondents in 10 expressing this preference.

36A majority of North African immigrants from Morocco, Algeria or Tunisia (6 respondents in 10) wish to be buried in their home country. Slightly more Tunisians opt for burial in France however. A large majority (68%) of respondents born in Turkey express a preference for burial in their home country, while among Asian-born immigrants they are a very small minority.

37By comparison, the data of the MGIS survey indicate very similar preferences for the countries or groups of countries studied (Tribalat, 1996, pp. 130-133) [12]. Of course, to compare these data more specifically with those of our survey, we would need to have homogeneous age groups and cohorts. The overall results nevertheless suggest that the situation has changed very little over the last ten years. The differences by country of birth reveal that the expense of repatriation is certainly not a decisive factor in burial location preference, whereas cultural factors definitely are.

38The PRI survey also collected data on religious affiliation. Based on a breakdown into six main categories, Table 6 shows that burial location preferences vary substantially from one religion to another. A large majority of Muslims (68%) wish to be buried in their home country, while burial in France is preferred most frequently among Christians other than Catholics and Protestants, migrants with no religion and those grouped in the “other religion” category. Among the latter, Jews very rarely wish to be buried in the home country (1.9%), opting in most cases for burial in France [13]. The same is true, to a lesser extent, for Buddhists. This is because these religious groups have been targets of discrimination or persecution in their countries of origin. Among Christians, Protestants are the exception, with the lowest level of preference for burial in France (40.8%). In this category, 22.8% prefer their home country and 30.5% are indifferent. The majority of protestants come from European Union countries and 20% are from sub-Saharan Africa, which explains the relatively high level of preference for burial in the home country.

Table 6

Burial location preferences by religion

Table 6
Religion Burial location preferences (%) Number In France In home country Indifferent Don’t know Catholic 55.3 19.9 20.7 4.1 2,790 Duration of stay: 0 to 19 years 35.9 26.9 33.0 4.3 212 Duration of stay: 20 to 29 years 36.7 30.2 27.2 6.0 368 Duration of stay: 30 to 39 years 42.7 27.5 25.1 4.7 1,072 Duration of stay: 40+ years 80.9 5.5 11.0 2.6 968 Muslim 14.9 68.0 13.4 3.7 2,036 Duration of stay: 0 to 19 years 15.7 64.2 16.7 3.4 204 Duration of stay: 20 to 29 years 13.1 72.4 11.7 2.9 590 Duration of stay: 30 to 39 years 13.2 69.6 12.8 4.4 665 Duration of stay: 40+ years 26.1 55.5 12.7 5.8 330 Protestant 40.8 22.8 30.5 6.0 233 Other Christian religion 56.8 15.8 22.7 4.7 278 Other religion 62.7 9.6 21.9 5.8 365 Buddhist 63.3 10.2 19.9 6.6 166 Jewish 72.4 1.9 21.9 3.8 105 No religion 54.2 17.3 22.7 5.8 480 Note: Persons preferring burial in another country are not included because their number is very small (29 observations). Population: Immigrants aged 45 to 70. Source: PRI survey 2003.

Burial location preferences by religion

39Given that these results may be affected by differences in the length of time already spent in France, we examined preferences according to duration of stay for the two most represented religions (Catholic and Muslim). For a given duration of stay, there are always differences between religions. For example, for long durations (above 40 years), a preference for burial in the home country is expressed by 5.5% of Catholic migrants, compared with 55.5% of Muslim migrants. Table 6 also shows that the preferences of Muslims vary much less than those of Catholics by duration of stay.

40Religious observance, whether regular or occasional, has a significant influence on preferences. This was verified for the two religions to which the immense majority of respondents belong, i.e. Catholicism and Islam, with 27% of regularly practising Catholics preferring burial in the home country, compared with 22% of occasional churchgoers, 15% of non-practising Catholics with a religious attachment and 12% of those with no religious attachment. Differences are even more pronounced among Muslims [14]. The stronger attachment of practising Catholics and Muslims to their home country can be explained by their desire to ensure that all necessary rituals are observed. This is not the only reason however, since these rituals can also be practised in France, in the case of Catholics especially. Religious observance must be interpreted as one component of the systems of life and thought that honour attachment to traditions and ancestors.

IV – Influence of kinship ties

41The last aspect of burial location preferences concerns the role of the burial site in maintaining kinship ties, a factor that the PRI survey enables us to study in more depth. The survey provides information on the burial location of deceases parents and parents-in-law [15]. The data also includes the respondents’ parents’ birthplace. More than 80% of deceased parents (father or mother) are buried in their home country (Table 7). This unsurprising result simply indicates that the sample corresponds to a first generation of immigrants in France. Less than 15% of parents are buried in France, while the proportion of those buried in another country is around 5%.

Table 7

Parents’ burial location by place of death

Table 7
Burial location preferences (%) Number In France In home country In another country Number Mother deceased Died in France 83.5 14.7 1.8 589 Died elsewhere 13.2 75.7 11.1 186 Never came to France 0.4 95.5 4.1 2.888 Overall 14.4 81.5 4.1 3.663 Father deceased Died in France 79.1 19.5 1.4 783 Died elsewhere 7.9 87.1 5.1 528 Never came to France 0.4 94.0 5.6 3.618 Overall 13.7 81.5 4.8 4.929 Population: Immigrants aged 45 to 70. Source: PRI survey 2003.

Parents’ burial location by place of death

42The parents’ burial location varies according to the place where they finished their lives. Though 95.5% of mothers who never came to France are buried in their country of birth, among mothers who spent most of their life in France or who ended their life there, 83.5% are buried in France, only 14.7% in the home country (mainly Algeria and Portugal) and 1.8% in another country. By contrast, among those who ended their days abroad after spending a part of their life in France, 75.7% are buried in their home country, while 13.2% were transferred back to France for burial after death. A similar asymmetry is observed for fathers. Repatriation of bodies away from France is slightly more frequent, concerning 19.5% of fathers who died in France, while the proportion of fathers who died abroad and whose body was brought back to France for burial is smaller than for mothers (7.9%).

43The majority of deceased parents are buried in the country where they ended their lives, in most cases their country of birth. In the next generation, more respondents report a preference for burial in France. Table 8 indicates the preferences of the surveyed immigrants according to the place where their parents live or are buried.

Table 8

Burial location preferences by parents’ burial location

Table 8
Burial location preferences (%) Number In France In home country Indifferent Don’t know Both parents deceased Father and mother in France 92.0 1.4 6.3 0.3 349 Father and mother in home country 34.6 42.5 18.4 4.5 2,556 Father and mother in another country 48.2 14.8 35.2 1.9 54 Father deceased Father in France 88.0 2.1 9.2 0.7 674 Father in home country 34.3 41.7 19.1 5.0 4,011 Father in another country 55.4 15.1 26.0 3.5 231 Mother deceased Mother in France 91.4 1.7 6.1 0.8 525 Mother in home country 34.8 41.5 19.2 4.6 2,984 Mother in another country 51.4 19.0 26.8 2.8 142 (Living) father’s place of residence Whole life in France 60.1 17.1 19.8 3.1 258 Partly in France 39.9 33.6 22.9 3.7 301 Short stays in France(a) 31.6 37.2 25.1 6.1 215 Never came to France 26.1 47.5 21.6 4.8 394 (Living) mother’s place of residence Whole life in France 70.3 11.4 15.3 3.0 437 Partly in France 54.8 20.7 19.8 4.6 469 Short stays in France(a) 30.0 39.9 23.6 6.4 576 Never came to France 24.1 48.8 22.2 4.9 1,023 Note: Persons preferring burial in another country are not included because their number is very small (29observations). (a)Visits of under three months. Population: Immigrants aged 45 to 70. Source: PRI survey 2003.

Burial location preferences by parents’ burial location

44We will begin with the case where both parents are deceased. When the father and mother are buried in France, more than 9 respondents in 10 also wish to be buried in France, compared with only 1.4% who prefer burial in the home country. Conversely, when both parents are buried in the home country, a much larger proportion of respondents also wish to be buried in their country of birth (42.5%) [16]. When only one parent is deceased and buried in France, a large proportion of respondents again report a preference for burial in France: 91.4% if it is the mother and 88% if it is the father [17]. However, though the parents’ burial in France results in a strong tendency for respondents to make the same choice, the parents’ burial in the home country does not influence them likewise.

45When the father is still living in France and has spent most of his life in the country, 60.1% of respondents wish to be buried in France. This proportion decreases when the father has been in France for a shorter time, and falls to just 26.1% when the father has never been to France. In parallel, preference for burial in the home country increases sharply, from 17.1% for respondents whose father has spent most of his life in France to 47.5% for those whose father has never been to the country. Similar results are obtained for the influence of the mother’s place of residence, and this influence is even stronger when the mother has spent at least part of her life in France.

46Alongside the respondents’ parents’ place of residence, the PRI survey gathered information on the presence of children and of siblings in France and the home country. We also know whether respondents have other family members in the home country. All these variables were entered into the multinomial regression in the form of dichotomous variables, making it possible to estimate whether the location of different family members has a specific influence on burial location preferences, all other things being equal.

47Firstly, there is a strong tendency for the same choices to be repeated from one generation to the next. When the parents live in France, the probability that the respondent will prefer to be buried in the home country rather than France is significantly reduced (Table 3). Conversely, this probability is slightly higher (at the 10% threshold) when the parents live in the home country. The presence of other family members – primarily ascendants – in the home country, also increases the probability that respondents will prefer burial in the home country rather than France. Secondly, the PRI survey highlights the influence of the place of residence of descendants. Respondents much more frequently wish to be buried in the home country when they have children who live there, while having children who live in France has no significant effect.


48In accordance with our hypothesis, preference for burial in France or in the home country, or an attitude of indifference or indecision appear to be strongly determined by religious affiliation and by the family and social attachments of immigrants. An individual’s projection of his or her future burial site is founded upon a sense of attachment to a territory, a group or a family network. Whatever the importance of these determinants, they do not fully explain the preference for burial in the home country, since such a preference may be associated with a desire to end one’s days in France. The preferences expressed are influenced by a remarkably large number of different variables.

49The preferences revealed by the PRI survey show firstly that this question is by no means a subject of indifference among immigrants living in France (or only in very rare cases), especially as they grow old. This reflects the growing preoccupation with death among old people and the need to prepare one’s future demise [18]. The preference for burial in France is very strong among women, among those who have French nationality, those who arrived at an early age in France and among home owners. The desire for burial in the home country is stronger among persons from Africa and Middle East and among Muslims. Family geography also exerts a powerful influence. In particular, the home country is chosen much more frequently when the respondent’s children live there, but also when their parents live or are buried there. By contrast, preference for burial in France is very strong when the parents are buried there. This appears to be a powerful factor in the development of a sense of belonging in France. In this context, the stability of preferences for burial in the home country during the last decade indicated by comparison with data from the MGIS survey is undoubtedly a sign of the enduring symbolic power of death rituals among the immigrant population.


This text was presented at the INED Démodynamiques seminar on 9 February 2004, during which we received many helpful comments from our discussant, Patrick Simon. We also wish to thank an anonymous referee of the journal and the members of the editorial committee for their remarks and suggestions on previous versions of this manuscript.


  • [*]
    Direction des recherches sur le vieillissement, Caisse nationale d’assurance vieillesse, Paris.
  • [**]
    Université de Nantes, Caisse nationale d’assurance vieillesse and Institut national d’études démographiques, Paris.
    Translated by Catriona Dutreuilh.
  • [1]
    While the proportion of Catholics attending weekly mass has fallen to below 10% in France since the 1990s, 8 in 10 funerals take place in a church (Déchaux, 2004, p. 1155).
  • [2]
    This survey was co-funded by FAS (Fonds d’action sociale), ARRCO and AGIRC (supplementary pension schemes), MSA (Mutualité sociale agricole) and the Caisse des mines. It was headed by Claudine Attias-Donfut, with the collaboration of Rémi Gallou and Alain Rozenkier. INSEE participants include Guy Desplanques, Daniel Verger and Catherine Borrel, among others.
  • [3]
    Data was collected by INSEE interviewers at the respondents’ homes using the computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) system. The face-to-face interviews lasted 90 minutes on average.
  • [4]
    This may be a problem in the case of widows and widowers, since their preferences are very likely to be influenced by the burial location of their deceased spouse.
  • [5]
    Very few widowers wish to be buried in their home country, while only just over half of widows wish to be buried in France.
  • [6]
    The survey did not collect information on the burial location of deceased spouses.
  • [7]
    Though the study by Khat et al. (1998) tends to confirm that migrants from the Maghreb, men in particular, are in much better health than their socioeconomic profile would appear to indicate.
  • [8]
    See for example Auby (1997) or Chaib (2000).
  • [9]
    Respondents were also asked about discrimination or persecution for religious, ethnic or other reasons to which they or their family may have been subjected in their home country. Such situations are not rare: more than 15% of respondents have suffered discrimination of this kind, and almost 9% severe discrimination. This variable has a strong influence on individual preferences. A preference for burial in France is expressed by 60.7% of persons who have suffered severe discrimination, compared with only 40% for those who have never encountered this problem.
  • [10]
    This question was examined in the geographical mobility and social integration survey (Mobilité géographique et insertion sociale, MGIS) in 1992, which distinguished between migration flows from different geographical regions, on the assumption that there is no single model but a series of models specific to the different migration flows (Tribalat, 1996, p. 134). Comparison between the results of the PRI survey and those of the MGIS survey can only be partial, since the MGIS sample was limited to seven countries or groups of countries (Algeria, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa) and to persons aged 20 to 59, except for those of Spanish origin (age 25 to 59), Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (age 20 to 39)
  • [11]
    People of Belgian, German and British origin have slightly different profiles. Respondents born in Germany more frequently wish to be buried in France and less frequently opt for their home country. This may be for historical reasons, since some were born in the east of France at a time when the region was under German rule.
  • [12]
    In 1992, preference for burial in the home country was expressed by 53% of men and 48% of women from Algeria, 52% of men and 56% of women from Morocco, 48% of men and 45% of women from sub-Saharan Africa, 63% of men and 70% of women from Turkey, 33% of men from Portugal (the overall percentage for women is lacking), and only 12% of men and 13% of women from Spain.
  • [13]
    Jews more often express a preference for a country other than France or the home country, though this is still a minority choice (around 6%). This other country is generally Israel, chosen because they have close relatives there or because of a personal attachment to the country.
  • [14]
    For this sub-population, the proportions of those preferring burial in the home country, by decreasing intensity of religious observance are 75%, 68%, 49% and 20% respectively.
  • [15]
    However, there is no information about future burial preferences of parents still living at the time of the survey. It was considered insensitive to ask persons selected to answer the questionnaire about their parents’ future burial preferences.
  • [16]
    In parallel, a larger proportion of respondents are undecided, whereas preferences are very clear for respondents with both parents buried in France.
  • [17]
    We also examined whether the mother’s burial location had a stronger influence on women’s preferences, and the father’s on those of men. The data tend to invalidate this hypothesis. More women than men wish to be buried in France when their father is buried in France, and likewise when the mother is buried in France. This simply reflects the difference between men and women, with women preferring burial in France. When both parents are deceased, in 91% of cases they are both buried in the same country. In situations where one of the spouses in buried in France and the other in the home country, it is more often the father’s grave which is in the home country. As the mother has a statistically higher chance of outliving her spouse, she is likely to prefer burial in the country where her children live.
  • [18]
    Banks, insurance companies and undertakers have latched onto this market and offer a growing range of specific products (funeral contracts, etc.). The repatriation of deceased bodies is often also included in their offer. In this way, customers can decide where they wish to be buried and organize their funeral in advance.


The question of the burial location preferences of immigrants in France and of their determinants is examined using the results of a national survey of retirement among the French immigrant population (PRI survey) conducted in 2003. The survey was conducted on a random sample, taken from the population census, of 6,278 persons aged between 45 and 70, born outside France to non-French parents. Three profiles were identified: persons preferring burial in France, those preferring burial in the home country and those with no preference, because they are either indifferent or undecided. The results reveal a stronger preference for burial in the home country among persons from Africa and among Muslims, while highlighting the multiple factors underlying such preferences.



La question des préférences relatives au lieu d’enterrement des immigrés en France et de ses déterminants est traitée à partir des résultats d’une enquête nationale sur le passage à la retraite des immigrés vivant en France (enquête PRI) réalisée en 2003. Cette enquête a été réalisée auprès d’un échantillon aléatoire tiré du recensement de la population comprenant 6 278 personnes âgées de 45 à 70 ans nées hors de France, d’origine étrangère. Trois profils se dégagent : ceux qui souhaitent une inhumation en France, ceux qui préfèrent être enterrés au pays d’origine et ceux qui n’expriment pas de préférence, qu’ils soient indifférents ou indécis. L’examen de ces résultats met en évidence une plus forte préférence pour l’inhumation au pays d’origine parmi les personnes originaires d’Afrique et les musulmans, tout en montrant la complexité des motivations à ce propos.



Este artículo analiza las preferencias relativas al lugar de inhumación de los inmigrantes en Francia y sus determinantes a partir de los resultados de una encuesta nacional sobre la llegada a la edad de jubilación de los inmigrantes (encuesta PRI), llevada a cabo en el año 2003. Esta encuesta se realizó con una muestra aleatoria extraida del censo de población, formada por 6,278 personas de 45 a 70 años nacidas fuera de Francia, de origen extranjero. Tres perfiles aparecen en la encuesta: el de inmigrantes que desean ser inhumados en Francia, el de aquellos que prefieren ser inhumados en su país de origen y el de aquellos que no tienen preferencia, sea porque son indiferentes o porque no han tomado una decisión. El análisis de los resultados indica que los individuos originarios de África y los musulmanes muestran una fuerte preferencia por la inhumación en el país de origen, y que las razones de ello son complejas.


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Claudine Attias-Donfut [*]
  • [*]
    Direction des recherches sur le vieillissement, Caisse nationale d’assurance vieillesse, Paris.
François-Charles Wolff [**]
François-Charles Wolff, LEN-CEBS, faculté des Sciences économiques, université de Nantes, BP 52231 Chemin de la Censive du Tertre, 44322 Nantes Cedex 3
Tel: 33(0) 2 40 14 17 42. Fax : 33(0) 2 40 14 17 43. e-mail:
  • [**]
    Université de Nantes, Caisse nationale d’assurance vieillesse and Institut national d’études démographiques, Paris.
    Translated by Catriona Dutreuilh.
Translated by
Catriona Dutreuilh
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