The Disolution of Family

In the late 1980s, a change in Russian traditions would begin to take place. As taboos regarding sexual exploration were increasingly challenged, the younger generation began to change the structure of a traditional family. We know from previous posts that a standard, ideal family was predominantly nuclear in composition with many children and perhaps some extended family. However, in the late 1980s, families were fleeting and constantly changing (Source.) As sex became less attached to the concept of marriage and divorce rates skyrocketed, “some … may actually have lost interest in marrying, or it may be that men too find it hard to try their luck again.” (Source.) Sex was less emotional and the bond that would normally lead to marriage was no longer as prevalent. Focused on other goals, typically surrounding success, men and women were less concerned about settling down and starting families. With the longevity of women’s time in the workforce, a startlingly high rate of male mortality, a prevalence of alcoholism, and a shortage of funding for basic things such as food and cleaning supplies, the alteration of family structures would begin to take place (Source.)

Signs of desperation: People stand in line with cans for food supplies in Tula, Russia, in November 1991

There is a heavy issue of alcoholism that permeates Russian society and that was no different in the 80s and 90s. Despite the attempt to reduce alcohol consumption through an anti-alcohol campaign, the reliance on the substance persisted. Men were the most affected demographic for high rates of alcohol consumption which made them out to be unsuitable partners for women looking to settle down (Garrels). With male mortality as high as it was, alcoholism was by no means an encouraging trait to any woman looking for a prospective husband. Also important to consider is the price one paid to drink consistently. Alcohol was an expensive habit that could mean the difference between having food to serve or not. Many women simply chose to avoid marriage all-together if their choices consisted of a high proportion of alcoholics.

Taking their minds off things: Siberian men relax outside a shack in the town of Novokuznetsk, which was hit hard by widespread economic problems in the early 90s.

The lack of suitable partners, however, was not the only factor which led to the alteration of the marriage landscape. Along with the sexual freedom young people were encouraged to experience was a new generation of hard-working women. While in the past, it had been the expectation that men would go to work and the women would stay home and be caretakers, it was now the case that women were workers as well. This left a large question of who would be the caretaker of the home, as men typically refused the partake in household duties. It is, therefore, natural to conclude that, “the conflict between men and women over the sharing of household responsibilities is one of the main reasons for family discord and divorce.” (Source.)

Another factor which limited the growth of families was the availability of resources. As the Soviet Union became increasingly unstable, food goods and other commodities became limited and it was understood that to start a family would be to commit to the potential of lacking resources. It simply made more sense to work for personal stability above all else. When looking at each component in the alteration of a familial landscape, the most logical conclusion to come to is that to be single meant security. As the birthrates dropped, however, accommodations began to be offered to pregnant women and families with a plethora of children (Source.) But even that was not necessarily enough to resurrect the large nuclear family of Soviet past.

Bleak: Russians must wait in food lines to get whatever goods are available in November 1991, just a month before the collapse of the USSR

These factors defined the lives and the decisions of Soviet men and women and ultimately changed the way families existed. Despite the best attempts at intervention, the crumbling of this tradition reflected itself in the dissolving state. Preservation was pursued but ultimately, it was accepted that what once was would never be again. As the Soviet Union collapsed, so did the remnents of tradition. What would rise from these ashes would become the state of Russia as we know it now. How history will examine its development, I am enthused to see.

Garrels, Anne. Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.

2 thoughts on “The Disolution of Family

  1. Some terrific sources here! And it’s great to see Anne Garrels’ work incorporated into our course. The challenges facing nuclear families had far-reaching repercussions for sure. How do you square the portrait you’ve drawn of sex and family life here with the module on female sexuality from 17 moments?
    Fun fact: the people with cans are standing on line for milk, kefir, or some other liquid product.


    1. I think this fits into the dissolution of social significance associated with sex. There was less of a stigma around pre-marital sex so that removed the need to marry in order to meet those needs. This left women more time to pursue careers and passions rather than focus on rearing a family. The female sexuality movement was just one factor in the social movement that produced the redefined version of a family in the Soviet Union.


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