Friday, February 14, 2020

Russians’ Transition to Adulthood has Changed Radically Since Soviet Times, Mitrofanova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 8 – The order, mix and pace of events that Russians define as marking the transition to adulthood have changed dramatically over the last 50 years, demographer Yekaterina Mitrofanova says, a shift with enormous consequences ranging from the way they view education and work to when or even if they have children.   

            In Soviet times, the Moscow Institute of Demography scholar says, the transition to adulthood was more or less lockstep for everyone – first, the completion of education, then, getting a job, then moving away from parents, and finally marriage and children (

            But given the greater number of choices Russians have in the post-Soviet environment, the order of these changes, the combination or two or more of them at the same time, and the speed with which most young people fully enter adulthood has changed, with Russians now seeing the break at 23 to 25 and not the 18-19 of the past. 

            The most dramatic consequences of these changes is that Russians are getting married later in their 20s or not until even later or are living together without benefit of registration. Both of these things push off the appearance of the first child and thus depress the birthrate, the demographer points out.

            Among those born in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1940s, 40 to 60 percent of the men and 70 percent of the women had a child before the age of 25. Among those born in the 1980s, only 30 percent of the men but 65 percent of the women had their first child before that age, dramatically changing gender roles and possibilities as well.

            But there are other effects that may be as important. Many young Russians are combining education and work or going back to school after taking a job so as to be in a position to boost their chances of advancement or even to shift careers.  That requires changes in the educational system and among employers.

            Mitrofanova studied the biographies of 5451 people, who were divided depending on the date of birth from the oldest who were born between 1930 and 1939 and the youngest who were born between 1980 and 1986, using data collected by the UN research program on “Generations and Gender.”

            And because the transition to adulthood via these life events, she says, so too the rejection of the values of childhood in favor of those of the adult world has slowed as well, often meaning that those many older people might expect to be like them are in fact radically different because they have retained the values associated with childhood.

            In Soviet times, the demographer continues, there was a strong social norm that held those who got married should immediately have children. But after 1991, that norm weakened and has largely disappeared. Parenting is now more demanding both father and mother, there being fewer supports; and contraception is more readily available.

            As a result, Russians growing up since 1991 have been able to put off this life choice so that they can pursue other goals; and thus, Mitrofanova says, the transition to adulthood is not the one-time event it was before but rather an “incomplete” project which for many may last a very long time.

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