Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Geography and Sustainable Communities


Intimate partnerships between people of different ethnicities signal the decreasing social and cultural distance between ethnic groups. Such partnerships are also powerful agents of social and demographic change. They can further erode barriers between ethnic groups by fostering interactions within partners’ personal networks. Equally, they can re-shape the ethnic identities of future generations as their children typically identify with multiple ethnicities. A geographic perspective on mixed-ethnicity partnerships reveals that these processes of change are spatially uneven. Prejudices against mixed-ethnicity couples persist among some segments of society, and vary geographically. By shifting the scale of ethnic diversity research to the household, a geographic perspective on mixed-ethnicity partnerships sheds new light on ethnic landscapes, challenging established understandings of diversity and segregation across cities. Yet to date, distributions of mixed-ethnicity couples have seldom featured in social geographic analysis, and not at all in the Australian context. This is a significant oversight given rising rates of mixed-ethnicity partnering.

This thesis accordingly addresses the question, ‘How does a focus on Australian mixed-ethnicity couples and individuals advance established understandings of ethnic residential geographies?’ It adopts a mixed-methods approach, structured around distinct quantitative and qualitative components. Empirically, the focus is on couples involving an Anglo-European partner, and a partner from a visibly different ethnic minority group. The quantitative component of the study utilises customised census data to conduct Australia’s first-ever geographical analyses of mixed-ethnicity couples and individuals. It adopts finer-grained ethnic groups that have been conflated within broader pan-ethnic or racial categories in much existing geographical research on this topic. The qualitative component draws on in-depth interviews to explore mixed-ethnicity couples’ residential decision-making processes.

Results portray the unique residential geographies of mixed-ethnicity couples in Australia. Mixed-ethnicity couples exhibit dispersed settlement patterns that do not align with those of their constituent ethnic groups. Broadly, their residential distributions are skewed towards moderately diverse, inner city localities and fall in-between those of ethnically homogeneous couples, affirming similar findings in the small number of comparable international studies. Their residential geographies counter ethnic majority and ethnic minority groups’ tendencies towards residential clustering. Mixed-ethnicity individuals have similarly dispersed residential patterns. Yet there are multiple geographies of mixed-ethnicity couples and individuals, that vary across ethnic groups. Analysis of subsequent interviews seeks to explain these distinctive geographies. Its findings are surprising, considering the importance ascribed to neighbourhood ethnic diversity in existing international geographic literature on mixed-ethnicity couples. ‘Conventional’ factors (e.g. proximity to jobs) dominated the interviewees’ accounts of residential decision-making. While the couples interviewed did not choose particular neighbourhoods based on their ethnic composition, they did enjoy diverse locales where they described feeling normal, or even invisible. Many preferred diverse contexts for raising mixed-ethnicity children.

This thesis concludes that a focus on intra-household ethnic diversity is essential for understanding Australia’s ethnic geographies. For instance, it shows that some suburbs often labelled ‘ethnic enclaves’ are actually key sites of ethnic mixing within the home. It also demonstrates how the geographies of mixed-ethnicity couples speak back to broader theories of ethnic residential segregation, none of which sufficiently account for the observed results. Equally, this thesis has implications for theories regarding mixed-ethnicity couples’ residential outcomes, generating new insights into the ordinariness of their decision-making processes. Taken together, mixed-ethnicity couples’ distinctive residential patterns and explanatory narratives suggest that they do not feel tethered to existing ethnic landscapes, underscoring their role as change agents.

FoR codes (2008)




Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.