The Role of Children in Eastern European Families

This study examines the additive effect of attitudes towards gender roles and importance of marriage on the centrality of children in seven East European countries : Bulgaria, Czech Republic, the former East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Slovenia using the data from the 1994 International Social Science Survey (ISSP). Results support country related differences in participants’ attitudes about gender roles, marriage and children. The results show former East Germany as being the most egalitarian country, Bulgaria and Hungary as the most traditional ones, and Poland, Slovenia, Russia and Czech Republic in between. A model of the dynamics among attitudes towards gender roles, importance of marriage and the centrality of children was tested for the goodness-of-fit using structural equation models (AMOS 4.0) techniques by the method of maximum likelihood. The goodness-of-fit provided evidence that the hypothesised model was stable. The results indicated that attitudes towards gender roles and marriage have a strong impact on attitudes toward children.

The results showed differences in respondents’ perspectives on gender roles, marriage and children based on their country of residence. This adds to the extant research, which indicates that people’s perspectives on family processes differ depending on cultural experiences provided by their countries of residence (Jones and Brayfield, 1997 ; Nauck and Joos, 1999 ; Robila,2003 ; Wallace and Kovatcheva, 1998).

The results of the present study suggest that the seven Eastern European countries examined, cluster in three groups with former East Germany being the most egalitarian country, Bulgaria and Hungary the most traditional ones, and Poland, Slovenia, Russia and Czech Republic in between.

Political, social,economic and religious factors set the stage for differences in people’s perception of the family processes. The structural model suggests that there is a significant relationship between attitudes toward gender roles and marriage and attitudes toward children. People who have more traditional views on gender roles and on the importance of marriage, consider that having children is a central part of their lives. This finding held for both men and women.

However, for women, attitudes toward marriage play a bigger role in assessing the centrality of children in their lives than they do for men. This is due to women’s socialisation process, which often associates marriage with having children. This might also be due to the social stigmatisation of not being married or having children out of wedlock, which is bigger for women than for men.

However, parenting while not married has increased in Eastern Europe, as in other parts of the world. The economic environment also makes it harder for a single woman to raise her children than it would be for a man to be a single parent. On the other hand, for men the views on gender roles are more important than for women in considering the centrality of children. Those with more traditional gender roles are more inclined to view children as an important part of their lives.

The multisample comparison analyses reveal that the effect of gender roles on centrality of children is similar across groups, confirming previous literature (Glick and Fiske, 1996 ; Jones and Brayfield, 1997 ; Roberts and others, 2000). These findings add to the gender ideologies framework (Greenstein, 1996a), which suggests that the division of household labour tends to be relatively traditional. As stated by other scholars (for example, Glick and Fiske, 1999), these results reveal that gender ideologies are traditional across cultures.

The fact that women are traditional and the lack of a feminist movement in East Europe might also explain these similarities. For example, the limited number of women in governmental positions diminishes nation-wide recognition of gender inequality in the new democracies and enhances gender discrimination (Marody, 1993 ; Wejnert, 1996).

Variations in economic climate, the structure of unemployment, and the decrease in the number of women holding professional positions have all enhanced the gender gap during this time of political and economic instability. This is reflected in the fact that, during the recent decrease in demand for labourers, women were the first to be laid off from jobs (Wejnert, 1996).

The family model in East Europe is similar with the one existent in South Europe (for example, in Greece, Italy) also characterised by more traditional patterns (for example, children are conceived outside of marriage in a relatively small rate) (Golini and Silvestrini, 1997). A different family model is represented by the North European countries were there is more ‘avant-garde’ in the structure of family. Northern Europe is characterised by a high rate of cohabitation and by a high number of childbirths outside of marriage (Golini and Silvestrini, 1997).

The study presented here makes a significant contribution to the literature on attitudes toward the family in East Europe. Results from this cross-national sample show relatively strong evidence of the link between attitudes toward gender roles and marriage, and the way people think about having children. The study contains several limitations, however. One of them is that, like all generalisations, these results support group patterns with a limited understanding of individual variations. In depth research in each of these countries and in other East European countries not included in this database are necessary. Another limitation is that this data set was based on a single informant. Multiple informants would bring different facets of the family processes.

Overall, these findings reveal that East European people have a traditional view of the family as being structured by marriage, which organises their decision of having children. As perspectives on gender roles and marriage become more and more egalitarian and less traditional, it is important to promote the centrality of children. Social policies have to acknowledge the egalitarian trends and to encourage and support people who have children, regardless of their traditional or modern views on marriage and gender roles.

In conclusion, the literature on families in East Europe is limited. Cultural studies could bring even more insight in the way people from these countries understand their lives. Ideally, these studies would include multiple informants and multiple methods.

CHILDREN & SOCIETY VOLUME 18 (2004) pp. 30-41

Mihaela Robila Ph.D., is Assistant Professor in the Department of Family, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, Queens College, City University of New York. Her scholarly interests are in the areas of poverty, resilience, parenting, children and families in Eastern Europe.

Ambika Krishnakumar Ph.D., is Assistant Professor in the Department of Child and Family Studies at Syracuse University. Her scholarly interests are in the areas of marital conflict, parenting behaviours, youth problem behaviours, risks and resiliency issues, and ethnicity

Aller au contenu principal