Russian Social Structure

Nowadays the majority of young men and women in Russia prefer not to rush to marriage and the opposite trend has gained popularity: prior to marriage, the future spouses strive to receive good education, find a decent job and achieve the first successes in their careers.

russiansocialstructure_mediumGender Roles And Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender

A key part of communist ideology was the freeing of women from oppressive norms and structures. Women were trained for and encouraged to take up what was previously male-only labor, such as operating agricultural machinery, working in construction, and laying and maintaining roads and railbeds. Nurseries and day care centers were established to free women from child rearing. Women's increased participation in medicine, engineering, the sciences, and other fields was supported."Liberated" to work in public jobs, women often retained the burden of all household work as people held to customary notions of domestic propriety. Also, their equal employment status was not reflected in the workplace, where women faced several forms of discrimination. Nevertheless, in a number of domains, particularly in medicine and education, Soviet women gained authority and status. By the 1980s, one-third of the deputies to the Supreme Soviet were female, and women accounted for over 50 percent of students in higher education.

Much of the hard-earned status of women has eroded. As unemployment grew in the 1990s, the first to be discharged from lifelong positions were women; management jobs in the new commercial sector were reserved for men, and a traditionalist view of work and family reasserted itself throughout society. In part, this was a backlash against the "double burden" of employment and household labor; some women whose husbands had succeeded in the new economy were glad to leave their jobs and take up full-time household and family care. For women who want or need to work, recent trends toward devaluing women's work have been demoralizing and financially devastating. Some women have become entrepreneurs, although they face gender prejudice in setting up businesses and often are not taken seriously. The percentage of women holding political office has declined, and women's participation in high levels of industry, the sciences, the arts, and the government has shrunk, especially in big cities. Significant numbers of young women have been lured into prostitution, which appears to be the only way to escape poverty for many impoverished women from provincial regions.

The Relative Status of Women and Men

Many people have an inflexible image of gender roles and skills: men cannot cook, clean house, or perform child care, whereas women are bad at driving cars, managing finances, and supervising others. Men are valued for patriarchal and stern leadership, bravery, physical strength, and rationality; women are valued for beauty, intuition, emotional depth, and selfless generosity. Women are disproportionately represented among the devout, but the priesthood and hierarchy of the Orthodox Church are strictly male. Some new religious groups have women in leadership roles. Women are held in high regard as mothers, nurturers, and bearers of the most sacred dimensions of the culture. Many people value this conception of femininity and fear that it will be spoiled by feminists. Women's movement activists struggle against this viewpoint.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Russian families are large and friendly. The meaning of the family in Russia is not limited to the husband, wife and children. It stretches to include grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces. The members of the Russian family closely communicate with each other and frequently get together, especially on such family occasions as birthdays and anniversaries. Just like in any family, there might be misunderstandings and even quarrels among family members, however one thing is certain: Russians cherish their families and are always ready to help their relatives in difficult times. The tradition that everyone should love their own home and protect their family is instilled into Russians since the early childhood.

Marriage

Romantic love is considered the only acceptable motivation for marriage, and there is a long tradition in literature, poetry, and song of idealizing lovers' passion, usually with tragic overtones, although bawdy approaches to the topic are also popular. Contemporary practice also highlights more pragmatic and cynical aspects of marital relationships, such as improving one's economic status or housing prospects. People frequently meet partners at school, university, or at work, although discotheques and clubs in the cities have become popular meeting places. Premarital sex is generally accepted, and marriages arising from unplanned pregnancies are not uncommon. Since the 1930s, twenty-three years has been the average age at marriage. Cohabitation is tolerated, but legal marriage is greatly preferred. Although economic un-certainty has led many to marry later or not at all, 97 percent of adults marry by age forty, and most before age thirty. Approximately one-half of all marriages end in divorce. Economic hardship and alcohol abuse are major contributing factors. Ethnic intermarriage became fairly common in Soviet times, and most people have at least one ancestor of a different nationality.

Husband, Wife, and Age Differences

Just a few decades ago, it was very common among Russians to play the wedding at an early age. Young men and women would get married at the age of 18-20 while studying in their second or third year at the university. A typical student family (студенческая семья) would consist of a young husband and wife pursuing their university degrees while receiving material support from their parents.

According to the latest statistics, the marriages between Russians of the same age are much less common. In the majority of Russian families, the husband is 4-6 years older than his wife but the age difference of more than 10 years is still acceptable by most Russians (for example, the lead singer of the popular Russian band Mumiy Troll is sixteen years older than his young wife).

The Russian tradition, according to which a young woman had to get married as early as possible traces its roots to the distant past. In the ancient Rus', a fifteen year-old girl was considered to be mature enough for adult life and giving birth to children. Marriages were arranged and were a matter of practicality with the emphasis not being on romance. Such views on life preserved in Russia until the end of the twentieth century when marriages at the age of 18-20 were still common. It was only at the close of the twentieth century when an unmarried 20-year-old girl would no longer be referred to as someone who "stayed too long in maids" (засидеться в девках) and an unmarried 25-year-old woman would no longer be called the "old maid" (старая дева).

Nowadays the majority of young men and women in Russia prefer not to rush to marriage and the opposite trend has gained popularity: prior to marriage, the future spouses strive to receive good education, find a decent job and achieve the first successes in their careers. By the time of marriage and the birth of children, the young families have their lives arranged and are able to support themselves financially.

Civil Union: Putting Feelings to the Test

Civil unions have been gaining popularity in Russia lately. A civil union is a relationship where a man and a woman live together and share household expenses without officially registering a marriage. Civil union is a great opportunity for the young couple to test their feelings and make sure they are ready for a family life together. A marriage becomes official when the couple receives a wedding certificate in the Civil Registry Office (ZAGS) and gets married in a civil ceremony. In addition to the official civil ceremony, many newlyweds arrange an Orthodox wedding ceremony in the Church.

How to Address the Parents in Russian

The husband's in-laws are called тесть (father-in-law) and тёща (mother-in-law) in Russian. The wife's in-laws are called свёкор (father-in-law) and свекровь (mother-in-law).

When talking to their in-laws the young spouses may simply call them мама (mom) or папа (dad). At the same time, they use the formal pronoun вы to show respect to the older generation. However, that is not a requirement and each family finds their own ways to address their in-laws.

Government Support

The Russian Federation actively supports young families to reduce the number of divorces. There is a special program in Russia that supports construction of housing for young couples and provides favorable terms for home loans.

When a child is born, the young family receives support in the amount of 343,387 rubles (approximately $11,000 in 2010). Many Russian families bring up three or more children. These families are called многодетные (large families) and receive discounts on electricity, gas, water, education and public transport.

Domestic Unit

The multigenerational extended family living with the husband's family characterized peasant life until the twentieth century although household size varied by region. Among the aristocracy, the size and structure of the household unit was more flexible, although strict patriarchal control over the labor and behavior of the household was standard across social classes. One goal of the revolution was to replace traditional family practices with non-authoritarian communal living units. This experiment was short-lived, and after the 1930s, the values of family autonomy and privacy survived state intrusion.

The nuclear family is the most important domestic unit, and most married couples want an apartment of their own, away from their parents. The housing shortage and the high cost of new housing have made this a challenge, and families often live in apartments holding three generations, sometimes in stress-provoking conditions. Many couples with children live with a widowed parent of one spouse, most often the grandmother, who provides child care and food preparation. A grandparent's monthly pension may contribute significantly to the family budget.

Kin Groups

Even across distances, close relations are maintained between a person and his or her siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and their families, and nieces and nephews, and many people stay in touch with more distant relatives. Among the factors that account for the sustaining of close ties are a lack of geographic mobility, the importance of networks of support in hard times, and regular visits to relatives in ancestral villages in the summer to rest, work, or visit family graves.
There has been a resurgence of interest in aristocratic roots. The exploration and celebration of one's genealogical background has become quite popular, and some members of aristocratic families abroad have returned to visit their families' former estates and re-assert their rank. Many people are intrigued by the romance and drama of the great families of the past.

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