Staunton, December 13 – Despite the position of the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church which considers the ideal family to be a multi-generational one in which there are many children, Russian ideas about the family are evolving and diversifying in much the same way as these are in Western countries, Ivan Aleksandrov says.
The Russian government’s family policy conception says that the ideal situation is “a large multi-generational family” in which grandparents live under one root with children and grandchildren (rg.ru/2014/08/29/semya-site-dok.html), but ever fewer Russians families are like that or want to be, the journalist says (russian.eurasianet.org/россия-есть-ли-будущее-у-традиционной-семьи).
The state also insists that marriage exists only between a man and a woman, that divorces and abortions are wrong, and that marriage should be entered into primarily for the purpose of having children, all ideas that Russians increasingly reject both in practice and in what they tell pollsters.
And Russians also reject by large majorities the notion that the family, because it is in Putin’s words the basis of the state, should operate without any intervention by the authorities even when parents visit violence on their children. Most view that idea as opening the way to the worst kinds of domestic “tyranny.”
The Russian Orthodox Church supports the state in backing traditional models of the family (prihod.rugraz.net/assets/pdf/Osnovi_socialnoj_koncepcii_Russkoj_Pravoslavnoj_Cerkvi.pdf); but as a result, the religious organization finds itself increasingly out of step with both Russian ideals and Russian practices, Aleksandrov says.
Most prominently, it opposes homosexuality, divorce, abortion, and any intervention by the government in the way parents raise their children. And it argues as does the state that marriage is primarily about giving birth and raising children rather than securing the happiness of those who enter into it, again putting itself at odds with most Russians.
Ever more Russians are prepared to live in unregistered relationships, let alone marriages consecrated by the church, although a sizeable majority still believes that marriage should be entered into once children appear on the scene. And divorces are increasing: there are now more per capita in Russia than in Europe or the US.
According to a Public Opinion Foundation poll released last month, Aleksandrov reports, “family values of Russians are changing literally before our eyes” (fom.ru/TSennosti/14502). Overwhelmingly Russian men now say (practice is another matter) that both parents should divide work at home rather than having the woman do everything.
And another survey, this one by the Levada Center, found that 79 percent of Russians support the adoption of laws banning family violence, with a majority saying that such violence is a significant problem for Russian society (levada.ru/2020/04/07/rossiyane-gotovy-podnyat-ruku-na-domashnee-nasilie/).
Further, ever fewer Russians live in the multi-generational families favored by state and church. In 1990, some 22 percent did, but now only 12 percent do – and most of these do so because they can’t afford to live apart rather than because they want this “traditional” way of life (strelkamag.com/ru/article/nedostatki-zhilya-issledovanie-kb-strelka and cyberleninka.ru/article/n/polozhitelnye-i-negativnye-aspekty-prozhivaniya-v-mnogopokolennyh-semyah/viewer).
Most multi-generational families in Russia are to be found in rural areas where poverty is greater and the possibility of living separately is thus more limited. If economic conditions improve, fewer and fewer Russians will choose to live that way, Aleksandrov says the expert community has concluded.
Most Russians would like to have two children, far fewer than needed for demographic replacement, but they are following Western countries in marrying later in order to pursue education and careers making even that lower figure possible (demreview.hse.ru/article/view/10428/11755); and they are divorcing more often (minzdrav.gov.ru/ministry/61/22/stranitsa-979/statisticheskie-i-informatsionnye-materialy/statisticheskiy-sbornik-2018-god).
All this means that the Russian family is increasingly different from the ideal the state and the church continue to hold up, Aleksandrov says; and that in turn means that those two institutions are in fact “finally losing contact with reality” when they continue to talk as if things are going their way.