We Are Family – The Changing Face of Family Life in Russia

While Russian life expectancy is lower than many other countries, it is currently at an all-time high for Russia. In 2013 the number of births exceeded the number of deaths by 24,013 for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union; this made the average birth rate higher than the European average. This is partly due to a better economic climate, as well as government-backed incentives to have children.

Russia is largely an urban country, with 74% of the population living in towns and cities. Moscow and Saint Petersburg rank the highest for population, partly because there are better employment opportunities around the towns and cities.

But how are these changes affecting the traditional Russian family?

Family life in Russia has always been an important part of its identity. Russian households are traditionally large and friendly and comprised of not just a husband, wife and children, but also grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces etc. There was a strong feeling of protection towards your family and extended families would often live together in one house.

Russians would get married quite young, often between the ages of 18-22; a 25-year-old woman who wasn’t married would be referred to as an “old maid”. It was very common for men to marry much older; age gaps of about 10 years are standard. Any pregnant women over the age of 25 are automatically in the “older mother” category. The couple often wouldn’t be able to afford a house of their own, so would move in with their in-laws. Even when families didn’t live together they would meet regularly, usually at the weekends, and eat and drink together.

Nowadays, young people in Russia are waiting longer before getting married and this is becoming more socially acceptable. They are taking time to establish their careers and becoming financially independent. There are also more married couples remaining childless and more children being born outside of marriage.

Young couples are building their own households away from the extended family, and in doing so are moving away from the tradition of the grandmothers, or babushka, looking after the grandchildren. More and more women are becoming career-orientated and are working outside the home, turning away from the traditional role of homemaker. They are taking advantage of Russia having some of the most generous maternity leave benefits in the world.

It’s clear that a new pattern in family life is emerging. Women are playing an increasingly important part in contributing to the household income and the state is offering many tax benefits to families with children, with a view to reducing household expenditure. Only time will tell how the family unit will continue to evolve.