Marriage in Russia
It is common sense that as time progresses, changes occur, whether they are intentional, planned changes or not. When large, full-scale societal changes occur, however, there is often even greater fluctuation among the other aspects of society. Marriage has long been held as an institution that upholds the ideals of a nation, culture, or tribe. The ideas that are validated by this institution often manifest themselves in other parts of the society. Because marriage is such an integral part of social ideology, it is no wonder that it would be affected by vast changes in other institutions in a society. The changes that have occurred in Russia since the downfall of the Soviet Union are a prime example of this. Because of the economic strife and political change that occurred during the breakup of the Soviet Union and the consequent fall of Communism, the marriage rate decreased tremendously.
Although the Cold War never actually escalated to a tangible conflict between the two nations, it was in virtually every other sense, a tactical war.
The advent of war, no matter how long it has been anticipated, inevitably comes as a shocking surprise. Its outbreak is experienced as a great crisis full of stress and uncertainty. The sense of insecurity is not nourished solely by the particular event which sets it off…but also upon whatever factors may give rise to personal insecurity in industrial society: competitive pressures in markets, achievement competition, gaps between personal aspirations for success and frustrated endeavors, etc. The intensity and volume of insecurity at the outbreak of war focuses and polarizes all otherwise dispersed and segmented feelings of insecurity.(Gerth, 341)
It seems, evident, then, that chaos ensued, as the Cold War began. The Communism which had provided for the needs of the Soviet people was under close scrutiny, to see if it would be capable of continuing to provide for the needs of the people and withstand the pressures from outside, as well. When Communism fell, a new sense of insecurity entered into the Russian people. They no longer knew where they would get their next meal, many times, much less were they concerned about marriage.
According to statistics, the marriage rate in the Soviet Union has been steadily declining since 1970, while the divorce rate has been climbing. Between 1980 and 1992, the marriage rate dropped significantly, by 3.5 points (see fig. 1, Vannoy, 12).
In post-industrial societies around the globe, technological and social changes are slowly reducing male privilege in all social institutions, and perhaps the family most of all. Women’s employment outside the home, which offers the possibility of economic self-sufficiency, is the main cause of this change. And this change is not occurring in any society without psychological pain and social disruption: marriage remains a powerful stronghold of norms, feelings, and habits that assume and rely on male privilege, and this contradiction is certainly responsible for much of the marital instability that exists today (Vannoy, 3).
While a greater percentage of women have begun to work outside the home since the Soviet Union broke apart, this does not in any sense mean that there is equality between men and women. In Moscow, women hold a majority of the lower-level jobs, which pay less, while the higher-paid jobs are held in a great majority by men (see fig. 2, Vannoy, p 46). This is not the only statistic showing the lack of equality in jobs between men and women. “IN 1995, women’s wages in Russia were 40 percent of men’s. In the former USSR, they averages 70 percent” (Seager, 69). The difference is, however, that more women are beginning to work outside of the home. In Russia in 1994, women were between 36 and 45 percent of all waged workers (Seager, 67). At this, there is increasing economic freedom of women (holding their own jobs, not being dependent for their economic life upon the men in their lives). It would seem that women would have less of a reason to remain married, if they were only marrying for financial sustainability. It would seem, then that the breakup of the Soviet Union would have led to an amazing increase in the divorce rate, inversely proportional to that of the marriage rate, such that not only would fewer marriages be occurring, but more would be breaking up, as well. This, however, is not the case. “In the initiation of economic crisis…the necessity of considering the children first and facing new problems increases the stability between husband and wife” (Goode, 228). In short, sociologists believe that economic problems only serve to solidify marriages, rather than to break them apart. “Divorces are [also] likely to decrease during depressions at a greater rate than during nondepressions” (Goode, 188). Additionally, “Marital instability increases with an increasing economic independence of women” (Goode, 207). While there has not been a substantial jump in the divorce rate in Russia, the percentages of marriages that end in divorce is still staggering, at 68 percent (Seager, 23).
While it would seem that women would have greater independence after the fall of communism, and that democracy would open doors for them, evidence shows that the new economic crisis that was created as the Soviet Union fell only served to make women more dependent on their husbands.
This breaks down, however, in light of the improvements that Russia has made since the breakup of the Soviet Union. While there was a time of definite economic crisis, Russia has made vast improvements both in its democratic rights index and in the degree of economic freedom since the actual fall of Communism in the country. While it was considered to only be at a level of 3 on the degree of economic freedom in 1989, by 1994, the degree of economic freedom had jumped to 67, and the democratic rights index was up 33 points to 58 from 25 (Murrell, 28). Although these changes are not as vast as some other former Soviet states (such as Latvia or the Czech Republic, who leaped 77 and 90 points respectively on the Degree of Economic Freedom Chart (Murrell, 28)), they are significant, showing that Russia is improving, and it is not as economically desperate as in the past.
Due to this political and economic liberalization, it can be seen that though initially the economic crisis may have drawn women more to their husbands, more recently, crisis has not been as prevalent, and women may be experiencing a greater sense of economic independence.
Despite the solidification of marriages that has occurred in the time of economic crisis following the fall of the Soviet Union, many more people are deciding not to get married. This statistic could be a result of the fall of the Soviet Union, but more specifically, as opposed to those women who feel more attached to their husbands, women may be taking the restructuring of the Russian society as an opportunity to strike out and create an independent life.
The history of the family has always been one that heralded the man as the dominant one. Especially in many religious societies, for example, Christian women are told, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (NIV, Ephesians 4:22-24). The man has long been considered the “head” of the family, and the woman is to be dependent upon him, as well as subservient. He is the one who is supposed to take care of the family, supporting it financially, and giving it structure, providing for its tangible needs, while the mother is the nurturer, caring for the family and supplying for its emotional needs. In two thousand years, this picture of the family has changed very little.
Before the breakup of the Soviet Union, another sociological norm was that women often got married relatively young, “before they have a chance to learn what a good wife ought to know. Since the late 1980’s, between 31 and 50 percent of the young women between 15 and 19 years of age were married in Russia (Seager, 22). Moreover, the mothers of many of these girls themselves know nothing” (Letiche, 38). Because of this problem, many believed in the past that “it would be advisable, therefore, that two or three experienced widows in every town be authorized to teach young girls…” (Letiche, 38). This lifestyle is not unlike that of Islamic fundamentalists. The belief that women need to know certain things in order to perform their duties as a wife sufficiently has long been accepted as a norm among societies that tend to undermine the strength of women. In the past, if women worked outside of the home at all, they worked to create handicrafts, spinning thread, weaving, and sewing. All of these crafts can be incorporated into the needs of home life, as well, and therefore did not detract from a woman’s central duty.
“Political freedom is a false freedom, worse than the worst type of slavery’ it is an illusory freedom and consequently, a true slavery. The same applies to political equality” (Jaworskyj, 120). While the role of women has slowly been changing in Russia, as it has been in many post-industrial nations, political freedom and equality was hardly attainable for men, much less women. Regardless of when the change occurred the most, it is clear that during the span of time in which Communism fell, the supposed political freedom that was to be initiated by a new democracy was not there, and could not be there until the institutions could uphold it. Marriage is one of these institutions that has long been capable of holding up societal changes, but it is slowly becoming less of a force, as women decide not to get married, for one reason or another.
As in many countries, the role of women is changing. It is debatable how, as time progresses, this change will continue, and how it will ultimately affect Russia and its society. One thing is for certain, though. Without marriage in the Russian culture, the cemented role of women as subservient wives may quickly be chipped away opening the door for greater economic freedom and change, so that one day, women may be viewed as equals with men.
(per 1000) Divorces
1970 10.1 3.0
1980 10.6 4.2
1990 8.9 3.8
1991 8.6 4.0
1992 7.1 4.3
1993 7.5 4.5
1994 7.4 4.6
1995 7.3 4.5
Monthly earnings wives husbands
Less than $34 8.4 4.1
$35-$56 5.7 0.8
$57-$110 28.1 4.6
$111-$199 25.3 14.8
$200-$359 22.1 36.6
$360-$498 6.2 18.2
$499 or more 4.3 20.9
Article name: Marriage in Russia essay, research paper, dissertation