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Sociological Research, vol. 53, no. 5, SeptemberOctober 2014, pp. 1331.

2014 M.E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved. Permissions: www.copyright.com


ISSN 10610154 (print)/ISSN 23285184 (online)
DOI 10.2753/SOR1061-0154530502

Iu.P. Lezhnina

The Transformation of Gender Roles


in Todays Russia
Data on changes in Russians views on gender roles show that traditional views of gender roles are still quite firmly rooted in the Russian
consciousness, but that they are gradually eroding due to the formation
of diverse models of family and personal relations. The transformational
processes in this sphere are happening most actively among youth in the
urban environment.

The transformational changes occurring in Russia over the past twenty years
have also influenced the sphere of family relations, having led to serious
changes in many aspects. For example, people have been marrying and
having children at a notably later age, forms of marriage and parenthood
have been modified, processes of nuclearization of the family have further
developed, and so on. These changes in the character of family relations and
in the institution of the family itself, as such, are usually described by specialists using a broad spectrum of terms and concepts. As a rule (especially
among sociologists), researchers use a terminological series that emphasize
the newness of the processes occurring in this sphere, from the evolution
of the family to the crisis of the family. I think, however, that it would be

English translation 2014 M.E. Sharpe, Inc., from the Russian text 2013 the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the
author. Transformatsiia gendernykh rolei v sovremennoi Rossii, Obshchestvennye
nauki i sovremennost, 2013, no. 4, pp. 16576.
Iuliia Pavlovna Lezhnina is a candidate of sociological sciences, an associate professor at the National Research UniversityHigher School of Economics, and a senior
science associate at the Institute of Sociology, Russian Academy of Sciences.
Translated by Kim Braithwaite.
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14 SOCIOLOGical Research

more useful to speak not so much of a crisis of the family as of a crisis of the
traditional forms of the institution of marriage (which is narrower) or of the
transformation of the family at a time when the normative models of the family that characterized the preceding stage have been disappearing. After all,
despite the modification of value attitudes, especially the increased values of
individualism, the significance of a career, opportunities for self-realization,
and so on, the family has not ceased to constitute an important terminal value
for the overwhelming majority of Russians.
A better understanding of ongoing processes in this field can be facilitated
by using, in sociological studies of the family, a tradition that has become
widely prevalent in the context of the demographic approach, and that studies
changes in the sphere of marriage and family relations by taking into account
processes of modernization (Demograficheskaia, 2006). And this is not surprising, because the ongoing transformations in this field have been largely
conditioned specifically by changes that characterize social and sociocultural
modernization: the increased significance of individual autonomy, a higher
degree of rationality (including economic rationality) of individual thinking,
the pluralization of life trajectories and life styles, the rise in significance of
opportunities for self-realization under these conditions, and so on. These
transformations, which constitute elements of the comprehensive modernization process as a whole, also represent an inseparable part of sociodemographic
modernization. At the same time, Russian demographers (who actively use
both the corresponding logic of analysis and the term demographic modernization), when describing the process, generally use concept of the second
demographic transition that has become widely prevalent all over the world.
Inherent to this concept, and characteristic of the development of modernization processes in the todays world, is the individuals shift of his thoughts
primarily to freedom of choice, self-realization, personal development, and
an individual lifestyle, which are reflected in the formation of the family,
attitudes in regard to birth control and reasons to become parents (Zakharov,
2005; Van de Kaa, 1987).
Considering previous experience in analyzing this set of problems both
by demographers and by sociologists, I now note some characteristics of the
processes of transformation of the family in Russia, which have already been
recorded. First and foremost, as has already been pointed out, the family has
not lost its importance, and almost all Russians say that the family is important
to them, and moreover the family is more important than work for most of
the population (Rossiiskaia, 2009). The very high value of the family, among
other values, has been consistently recorded in the various surveys both in
Russia (Kartseva, 2003; Varlamova, Noskova, and Sedova, 2006), and other
countries (Mitrikas, 2004). Also widely prevalent among them is sense of

septemberoctober 2014 15

identity with the family as a special community (56 percent), and moreover,
Russians have a sense of community with the family that is approximately
on the same level as that of people living in countries that are well known for
their conservatism in that regard, such as Germany (59 percent) and Poland
(57 percent).1
In Russia, however, as in the developed countries, the number of unregistered marriages has increased; people are deciding to marry and have children
later in life, and an increased proportion of women are breadwinners in their
families along with (or instead of) their husbands (Gotovo li, 2010; Maleva
and Siniavskaia, 2007; Vovk, 2005; Zakharov, 2006, 2007; Zakharov and
Sakevich, 2007; Zdravomyslova, 20067), and so on. Under these conditions,
both the desirable and the actual distribution of gender roles in families is
bound to change. But how exactly are these processes occurring in Russia
today? How do they influence changes in the familys place in the lives of
Russians, and the functions that they perform? How do they fit in with the
social and sociocultural modernization of Russian society as a whole?
In general, creating a family only for love has never been the norm for
[ethnic] Russian culture. In and of itself, however, love has always been of
intrinsic value to Russians, and for manysomething they dream of. Today,
however, according to data from the Institute of Sociology, Russian Academy
of Sciences,2 even among youth, dreams of love have been displaced by the
hope for prosperity, good health, and a just social system. Only 6 percent of
Russians dream of love (or 7 percent of all those who dream of anything,
and even in the case of young women between sixteen and twenty-five the
figures total only 15 percent). Furthermore, finding true love ranks in only
twelfth place among the life priorities of Russians. At the same time, having a good family is ranked in fourth place among these priorities and is the
dream of 17 percent of Russians, or 19 percent of those who dream about
anything (each respondent was permitted to select three such priorities). For
a better understanding of the processes unfolding in this field it is also useful
to mention that ten years ago,3 for example, only 5 percent of women ages
seventeen to fifty said that finding true love was not part of their plans in life.
At that time, two-thirds of them said that a marriage for love was stronger
than a marriage of convenience. Moreover, only seven years ago in 2006,
5770 percent of Russians of preretirement age said that love was important
to them (Varlamova, Noskova, and Sedova, 2006).
If, however, we are speaking not only of love but also of a broader concepthappiness in personal lifethen as the wish that Russians would like to
have granted if they caught the Golden Fish [the fairy-tale granter of wishes],
only 18 percent listed happiness in their personal lives (or 24 percent of those
who might hope for their wish to come true). This is most often mentioned

16 SOCIOLOGical Research

by women (23 percent, whereas for men, the figure is 13 percent), those who
are not married (37 percent of bachelors and unmarried women, 28 percent
of those with a regular partner but are not married to that partner), those living live in oblast centers and megalopolises (21 percent, whereas in other
population centers the figures are 1618 percent), and those who have gone
through their primary socialization in megalopolises (23 percent, whereas in
big cities the figure is 20 percent, and in other population centers the figures
are 1418 percent). At the same time, among those who would hope for the
Golden Fish to grant their wish, only 16 percent dream of having good children, 25 percentof having a good family, and 20 percentof finding true
love. This compels us to assume that happiness in personal life, even if it is
included among peoples life priorities, for many Russians today is linked
not so much to their finding true love or having a family and children as to
their subjectively felt psychological state of the fullness of their lives, and it
incorporates a broad set of components that, among other things, can be linked
but not confined to comfortable relations between a man and a woman.
Does this mean that the family itself in Russia is beginning to be perceived
as a component of life whose purpose is simply to provide psychological and/
or creature comfort? I believe that such an assertion would be too strong.
At any rate, this is the conclusion arrived at through an analysis of the ratio
between those who have or are counting on having a happy family and those
who dream of having a happy family in their lives and who also place a high
value on relations in their families. Thus, in the opinion of 48 percent of the
population a happy family has already become a reality, while 42 percent
believe that creating a happy family is fully achievable. Pessimism in regard
to the chances of achieving success in this field is experienced by only 9
percent of Russians, and only 1 percent have no desire to create a happy family. However, among those who say that they already have a happy family
and are married (including those in unregistered marriages), only 71 percent
rate relations in their families as good, while the rest see these relations as
satisfactory.
So, for many Russians a happy family does not necessarily assume ideal
relations in the family, and in and of itself having such a family is not identical to happiness in personal life. Rather, it is just a current objective, one of
the projects a person pursues throughout life (Zdravomyslova, 20067) along
with career and the pursuit of self-realization (Chernova and Shpakovskaia,
2010). Only 23 percent of Russians who intend to have a happy family speak
of it as their dreamin other words they perceive it as an important independent value and dream of preserving it. Curiously, at the same time, only 59
percent of those stating that they already have a happy family rate their sex
life as good, and 3 percent actually say that things are not good in that aspect

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of their lives. At the same time, more than half of Russians (58 percent) who
say they already have a happy family (and 83 percent of this groups members
are older than forty-five, when the process of raising their children has largely
been completed) also say that they have raised good children. This makes it
possible to understand that for most Russians a happy family is linked not
so much to unclouded relations in the family and a satisfactory sex life as
to the traditional family values that involve running the household together,
surviving in a difficult world, and raising their children. This is evidently why
a happy family and happiness in personal life, even though they are associated, are far from identical.
Under the conditions of the extremely high significance of a family for
Russians, and the fact that they pay little attention to matters of the quality
of relations in marriage, including sex relations, and love itself, assessing the
prospects for the development of the institution of marriage and family relations in our country requires finding out how Russians today interpret mens
and womens gender roles, at the stages of the development of love relations
love and of the creation and maintenance of the family, since in todays societies the independent character of the corresponding roles is manifested with
special clarity. The traditional perception of gender relations in [ethnic] Russian culture is linked primarily to the creation of a family and having children,
and, accordingly, to the similarity of the ideas of gender roles held by the man
and husband, on the one hand, and the woman and wife, on the other hand.
However, with the increasing complexity of societal relations in the course
of social modernization, the roles to be performed by any person in society
multiply and become separate. And although the sphere of relations between
a man and a woman is very slow to change, processes of transformation are
observed as well, and moreover, their vector in todays Russia is oriented in
the direction of further separation of these roles, especially in big cities.
In the opinion of Russians (see Table 1), the ideal man should be physically
strong and healthy (59 percent); have no bad habits (38 percent); know how to
provide material support (33 percent); and be intelligent (33 percent). Physical
strength and health turn out to be the most significant characteristics of the
ideal man, in the opinion of both men (67 percent) and women (53 percent).
It should be noted, of course, that for a certain proportion of women, a mans
lack of physical strength may be compensated for by good looks, which they
pay attention to relatively more frequently (21 percent compared to 13 percent
of men). Women more than men place a high value on not having bad habits
(42 percent and 33 percent, respectively); the quality of the ideal man that
is ranked third in significance is the ability to provide material support (35
percent). In the opinion of the members of the stronger sex, however, the ideal
man, besides not having bad habits (33 percent), must be able not so much

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Table 1
Russians Opinions on the Most Important Qualities for the Ideal Man and
Woman (%)

Qualities
Physical strength, health
Absence of bad habits (alcoholism,
narcotics abuse, etc.)
Intelligence
Ability to provide material support
Self-confidence
Attractive appearance
Sexiness
Sense of humor
Fidelity in love
Firmness
Thriftiness, practicality
Love for children
Goodness
Easygoing nature, flexibility

Ideal
Ideal man husband

Ideal
woman

Ideal wife

59

37

12

13

38
33
33
24
18
17
14
14
12
12
7
6
4

38
16
56
13
5
9
6
38
7
21
31
6
5

20
18
2
13
67
40
11
24
2
22
24
14
21

19
11
4
7
29
17
5
44
2
47
55
17
20

Notes: Up to three answers were permitted. The list of qualities has been sorted in descending order in each column of characteristics of the ideal man. Figures that are not less than
one-third (33 percent) are given in italics.

to provide support as to be intelligent (35 percent). So, when defining the


characteristics of the ideal man, women are more likely than men to assign a
leading rank to qualities that, in one way or another, are linked to family life,
whereas men are more likely to keep these roles separate.
There are noticeable differences in the characteristics of the ideal man
in the different social groups. For example, the rating of the importance of
physical strength and health for the ideal man is relatively higher in a rural
area (65 percent). In older age groups physical strength becomes somewhat
less significant (61 percent according to Russians up to age twenty-five and
55 percent of those forty-six to fifty-five)in contrast to the characteristic of
not having bad habits (34 percent of Russians up to age twenty-five, and 44
percent of those forty-six to fifty-five). The significance of this latter quality
is also higher in population groups that are not well off in material terms
(41 percent of Russians with a per capita income lower than the median, 37

septemberoctober 2014 19

percent of those with one or two times the median, and 30 percent of those
with incomes of more than two medians). A mans intelligence is relatively
less important to Russians with education no higher than the secondary level
(26 percent) and with per capita incomes lower than the median (30 percent),
while it is more important for those with at least one parent who has a higher
education (41 percent).
At the same time, differentiation of Russians preferences in regard to the
characteristics of the ideal man, in the different social groups, is more likely
to be the result of additional lines on a portrait than due to any changes in
that portrait in principle. For example, compared to other age groups, youth
attach more importance to good looks in the ideal man (24 percent of men up
to the age twenty-five compared to 1417 percent for other age groups) and
sexiness (20 percent for Russians up to age thirty-five, compared to 1015
percent for other groups). Good looks are also more important to those living
in megalopolises (24 percent, while for those living in other population centers
the figure is 1415 percent), whereas less importance is attached to the absence
of bad habits (30 percent and 3443 percent, respectively) and the ability to
provide material support (24 percent and 2837 percent, respectively). Russians whose parents have an education not beyond the secondary level give a
relatively higher rating to the importance of practicality and thrift (17 percent,
whereas among the other groups the figure is 712 percent).
The localization of preferences for male characteristics linked to the roles
of master, husband, and father, such as physical strength, the absence
of bad habits, knowing how to provide support, fidelity, thriftiness, love for
children, and goodness is observed primarily in the rural communities that
are the hearth where traditional ideas are preserved, including ideas about
gender roles. Twenty-one percent of rural inhabitants associate all three of
the key characteristics of men that they listed only with the traditional characteristics of a man in the Russian culture, whereas in megalopolises, for
example, that figure is two times smaller (11 percent). At the same time, the
reverse situationa low orientation toward these traits of the ideal man
characterizes mainly those living in megalopolises, where almost half (49
percent) select no more than one quality on that list, whereas for those living
in rural communities this indicator is 34 percent, and also for young people up
to age thirty-five (44 percent, whereas for others the figure is 3739 percent).
Residents of megalopolises relatively more often mention as characteristics of
the ideal man those that reflect his new forming stereotype that sets the boundaries of a different gender role, such as good looks (24 percent in megalopolises
compared to 14 percent in rural areas), sexiness (16 percent and 25 percent,
respectively), and well-developed intelligence (27 percent and 35 percent, respectively). A comparison of the image of the ideal man in rural communities

20 SOCIOLOGical Research

and in the megalopolises enables us to have a better understanding of the


vector of changes in the gender role of men in the culture of todays Russia,
which attests to the erosion of traditional ideas of the man as master.
In the opinion of Russians (see Table 1), on the other hand, the ideal woman
should, above all, be good looking (67 percent) and sexy (40 percent). And
in this regard, men (69 percent and 48 percent) and women (66 percent and
34 percent) are almost unanimous. The quality of the ideal woman ranked
third in importance, in the opinion of the men, is fidelity in love (31 percent),
whereas in the womens opinion it is love for children (27 percent). A higher
value is placed on sexiness by those living in megalopolises (48 percent), by
Russians who are not married (45 percent), and by young people (46 percent),
but it is also important to the representatives of all other social groups. The
substantially higher percentage of those who consider good looks and sexiness
to be the key qualities of the ideal woman attests to more homogeneous ideas
about the ideal woman compared to the ideal man in todays Russia. Moreover,
that role is perceived as abstract and separate from the role of wife, which
does not characterize traditional ideas about womens gender roles.
Preferences in regard to the characteristics of the ideal woman in the different social groups, the following should be noted: Russians with education not
lower than the higher education level, relatively more often prefer a woman
to be intelligent (21 percent compared to 1617 percent for other educational
groups). At the same time, those living in megalopolises are less likely to place
a high value on womens fidelity in love (18 percent), love for children (17
percent), the absence of bad habits (13 percent), and thriftiness (12 percent),
and more likely to place a high value on a sense of humor (20 percent) and
an easygoing nature (39 percent). Characteristics traditional to the woman in
the Russian culture, such as fidelity, love for children, thriftiness, and goodness, are things that Russians today hardly ever perceive as significant to the
ideal woman: when sketching their own portrait of the latter, two-thirds do
not select a single one of them, and moreover, in megalopolises that figure is
71 percent (compared to 62 percent for those living rural areas).
As we see, the portraits of the ideal man (strong, with no bad habits, not
sensible, and able to make a living) and the ideal woman (good looking and
sexy), as described by Russians, are quite integral internally, and they make
it possible to imagine the corresponding exemplar easily. At the same time,
the image of the ideal man corresponds to the traditional ideas about gender
roles in the Russian culture, to a considerably greater extent than the image
of the ideal woman does. This enables us to assume (at least hypothetically)
that discussions and debates about emancipation and gender equality in the
Russian context have led not so much to a perception of the womans image
as a partner equal to the man but to a reduction in the womans (but not the

septemberoctober 2014 21

wifes) zones of responsibility, while they are retained for men. Moreover,
locally, above all in the youth environment and in megalopolises as the centers
where urban culture is formed and developed, not only have the traditional
traits in the images of the ideal man and the ideal woman become weaker
specific characteristics have actually been added in connection with the
separation of the roles of husband and man and, especially, wife and woman.
And while the characteristics of the youth exemplars of the ideal man and
ideal woman are linked to characteristics that accompany increasing age, the
kind of demand becoming localized in megalopolises, which has become
abstracted from the prospect of family life together but is oriented toward a
comfortable way to spend time, is an indicator of the formation of new ideas
(in this environment) of relations between the sexes, partially based on the
separation of personal relations with the opposite sex from family relations,
and partly, as I will attempt to show below, on the changed meaning of family
relations themselves.
On the whole, it is even possible to identify two models of Russians
definition of the characteristics of the ideal man and woman: a model that is
not oriented toward the future construction of family life and a model that is
oriented toward it. In the first model, the important qualities for the man are
physical strength (69 percent), well-developed intelligence (37 percent), and
the absence of bad habits (33 percent); important for the woman are good
looks (87 percent) and sexiness (65 percent). In the second case the basic
qualities of the ideal man include not only physical strength (47 percent) and
the absence of bad habits (44 percent) but also the ability to provide material support (46 percent); for the woman, it includes love for children (47
percent), thriftiness (40 percent), and fidelity in love (34 percent)in other
words the things that characterize the successful performance of the role of
wife (see Table 2).
The first model (55 percent) is somewhat more widespread than the second
model (45 percent), especially among men (60 percent, whereas among women
this indicator is 52 percent). Just as for the set of characteristics that in their
view is inherent to the ideal woman, this attests to mens weaker orientation
toward the creation of a family, on the whole. At the same time, an orientation toward relations with the opposite sex that are not oriented toward family
life is more characteristic of young people (up to age twenty-five, 62 percent
favor this model, whereas in older ages it goes down to 45 percent among
those ages forty-six to fifty-five) and those living in megalopolises (67 percent
compared to 50 percent in rural areas). To a lesser extent it characterizes those
whose parents had an education that did not go beyond the secondary level (50
percent, whereas for other groups the figure was 5660 percent). In general,
about half of the population links gender roles of the woman to family life,

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Table 2
Images of the Ideal Man and Woman in the Context of Different Models of
Relations Between the Sexes (%)
Not oriented toward
family life (1)

Physical strength, health


Well-developed intelligence
Absence of bad habits (alcoholism,
narcotics abuse, etc.)
Self-confidence
Sexiness
Attractive appearance
Ability to provide material support
Sense of humor
Firmness
Fidelity in love
Thriftiness, practicality
Goodness
Love for children
Easygoing nature, flexibility

Oriented toward
family life (2)

Man

Woman

Man

Woman

69
37

11
20

47
29

13
15

33
27
26
24
22
18
13
9
4
4
2
2

16
15
65
87
1
16
2
15
7
9
5
24

44
19
5
10
46
9
11
21
21
8
13
6

25
11
9
42
4
6
2
34
40
21
47
18

Notes: Ranked by the qualities of a man who is not oriented toward family life. These
models were singled out on the basis of a two-step cluster analysis, a procedure that makes
it possible to classify items using the method of maximum likelihood. The number of
clusters is determined in the course of the procedure. Figures that are not less than onethird (33 percent) are given in italics.

which attests, on the one hand, to a still significant orientation toward creating
a family in relations with the opposite sex in the system of gender relations
as a wholethe usual case in traditionalist-type cultures, where processes
of modernization are not yet complete. On the other hand, the fact that this
proportion is less than half indicates processes of the erosion of that norm
that are occurring primarily in the urban and youth environment.
Against this background it is important to find out what is happening in
the apportionment of roles within the family. Judging from the qualities of
the ideal husband and the ideal wife, the institution of family, on the whole,
as Russians understand it today, has explicit gender roles that are quite clearcut: the duplication of performance of the functions that are assigned to the

septemberoctober 2014 23

Figure 1. Most Important Qualities for the Ideal Husband and Wife (%)
31

Love for children

55

21

Thriftiness

47
38

Fidelity in love
5

Attractive appearance

29

Easygoing nature

20

Absence of bad habits


Sexiness

17

17

Physical strength, health

37

13

Intelligence

16

11

Self-confidence

Ability to provide support

13
56

Sense of humor
Firmness

38

19
9

Goodness

5
2

44

6
7

For the husband

For the wife

Note: Up to three answers were permitted.

husband, in most cases, is not expected from the wife, and vice versa (see
Figure 1).
For example, the husband is supposed to play the role of provider, the one
who is able to provide material support, who is strong and healthy, the protector of the family. The wife is nice to look at and, because of her goodness
and relaxed nature, provides harmony in family relations (the percentages of
respondents who mentioned these traits of the ideal husband and the ideal
wife differ by three- to elevenfold), and also, with the support of the husband
of course, the wife plays the key role in raising the children and managing
the household. On the whole, the important traits for the ideal husband to a
considerably greater extent than for the ideal man include the ability to provide
material support (56 percent and 33 percent, respectively), fidelity in love (38
percent and 14 percent, respectively), and love for children (31 percent and
7 percent, respectively), while physical strength and health are of relatively
less importance (37 percent and 59 percent, respectively). In megalopolises, at
the same time, the more important characteristics in a husband are those that
make it possible to feel psychological comfort in relations with him: fidelity
(51 percent in megalopolises and 3337 percent in the raion centers and rural

24 SOCIOLOGical Research

areas), and an easygoing nature (11 percent and 4 percent, respectively). At


the same time, in other population centers more importance attaches to the
absence of bad habits (26 percent and 40 percent, respectively) and thriftiness
(this trait as an important quality of the ideal husband is mentioned by only
15 percent of those living in megalopolises, compared to 1925 percent of
Russians in other population centers).
The key characteristics of the ideal wife are love for children (55 percent),
thriftiness (47 percent), and fidelity in love (44 percent). At the same time,
those living in megalopolises, more so than Russians from other population
centers, place a high value among the traits of the ideal wife on the characteristics that make it possible to enjoy additional psychological comfort in
family relations: goodness (29 percent, whereas in other population centers
this figure is 16 percent), intelligence (18 percent and 711 percent, respectively), fidelity (56 percent and 3846 percent, respectively), but thriftiness
to a lesser extent (41 percent and 4651 percent, respectively), the absence
of bad habits (13 percent and 1820 percent, respectively), love for children
(43 percent and 5259 percent, respectively), and good looks (20 percent
and 2933 percent, respectively). At the same time, with increasing age more
importance attaches to qualities such as thriftiness (from 44 percent among
young people up to age twenty-five, to 52 percent of those forty-five to and
fifty-five) and goodness (from 14 percent to 22 percent, respectively).
On the whole, Russians ideas of the ideal husband and ideal wife correspond to the traditional vision of these roles. Moreover, judging from the
characteristics they see as most important for the roles of husband and wife,
the family is the microcosm that the husband and wife have to safeguard (by
being faithful), provide for (by taking part in the management of the household), and develop (by having children and raising them). This does not rule
out the existence of different family models, in practice, in connection with
different circumstances in life, but it does confirm the stability of Russians
deep-seated normative ideas about the ideal family. However, emerging ideas
of the family in megalopolises and among young people, namely about the
family as the comfortable environment for daily life, demonstrate the vector
of formation of new models of gender relations in todays Russian family.
At the same time, for men the roles of husband and man the most important
characteristics in the performance of these roles are similar. Accordingly, the
modernization of gender relations has hardly changed peoples ideas, on the
whole, about what kind of person the man should be. For the woman, on the
other hand, the assumption of the role of wife is linked to fundamentally different characteristics than is the assumption of the role of the ideal woman.
Therefore, women have found themselves in a more difficult position: on

septemberoctober 2014 25

the one hand, the characteristics necessary for the successful performance of
these roles are becoming more and more different from each other, and on
the other hand the actual image of the ideal woman is becoming more and
more varied.
However, the persistent dominance of traditional normative ideas about
the ideal husband and ideal wife does not mean the absence of any changes
in this regard. It is just that they are happening without being noticed and do
not strike one at first glance. However, a statistical analysis of the distribution
of answers makes it possible to single out a number of models of Russians
ideas about ideal family relations.4 For one-third of Russians (32 percent),
the ideal family can be described as a zone of psychological comfort. It
consists of an attractive, intelligent, and self-confident woman without any
bad habits, and an intelligent man who is a good material provider and also
has no bad habits5 (see Table 3).
At the same time, in the different social groups the comfort formed in the
context of this family model can be of a different character, arrived at as a
result of differentiation in the additional characteristics of the married partners in that family. For example, for rural residents this model is relatively
more often linked to the absence of bad habits (57 percent of husbands and
51 percent of wives, respectively, whereas for megalopolis residents these
indicators are at 42 percent6), and for megalopolis residents it is linked to the
married partners having a sense of humor, which makes it possible to smooth
over any rough edges (16 percent, whereas the figure for rural residents is
only 8 percent). For young people, it is relatively more likely to involve the
husbands physical attractiveness (15 percent for Russians up to age twentyfive and 38 percent for the other age cohorts), and also the absence of bad
habits (53 percent and 4347 percent, respectively) on the part of the wife,
along with intelligence (23 percent for respondents up to age thirty-five and
1016 percent for the rest). For Russians between forty-six and fifty-five who
share [a sense of humor], it is relatively more important for the husband to
have a sense of humor (15 percent, whereas for the others the figure is 89
percent) and for the wife to have a love for children (51 percent and 4345
percent, respectively).
The family as a form of running a joint enterprise, as an economic unit
(the model of the family as household), which one-third of the population
(31 percent) also considers to be ideal, is built on the union of a man who is
thrifty and able to provide material support, and a woman who is agreeable,
thrifty, and good. This model of relations between husband and wife most
characterizes the views of traditional gender roles in the family in Russian
culture. At the same time, the successfulness of the family in the context of this

32

47
18
9
14
15
4
36
5
11

52
21
10
15
7
8
25
52
9
36
17
5
15
7
8
31
75
8

1
27
3
35
22

42
11
9
21
45

8
31
4
22
22

31

1
10
4
5
29
3
86
7
32

6
10
6
34
59

Wife

20
11
5
15
3
11
13
43
2

12
80
27
30
19

Husband

19

3
7
4
5
21
1
12
2
8

56
29
56
58
32

Wife

Love nest

37
10
3
4
3
1
8
46
3

1
19
7
77
74

Husband

18

15
2
3
1
13
0
37
3
13

18
4
10
85
90

Wife

Family for the sake of


children

Notes: Figures in italics designate characteristics that are higher than the figure for the entire set as a whole by five or more percentage points.

Attractive appearance
Physical strength, health
Sexiness
Fidelity in love
Love for children
Absence of bad habits (alcoholism,
narcotics abuse, etc.)
Well-developed intelligence
Sense of humor
Self-confidence
Easygoing nature, flexibility
Firmness
Thriftiness, practicality
Ability to provide material support
Goodness
Percentage of those in favor

Husband

The family as
household

Wife

Husband

The family as a
comfort zone

Model Ideas of Ideal Family Relations (%)

Table 3

26 SOCIOLOGical Research

septemberoctober 2014 27

model is determined mainly by its level of material well-being, which, as has


already been demonstrated repeatedly in both Russian studies (Gotovo li, 2010;
Rossiiskaia, 2009) and foreign studies (Adele, 2004; Aseltine and Kessler,
1993; Liu and Zeng-yin Chen, 2006) has a direct influence on relations in the
family. For example, among Russians of high social status and, as they assess it
themselves, a good material condition, almost all (9093 percent) report good
relations with those close to them. Among those who rate their well-being as
satisfactory, this indicator stands at slightly more than half (5357 percent).
Among those who negatively rate their material condition and social status,
the indicator is less than halfonly 49 percent and 30 percent, respectively,
rate their relations with their marriage partners as good.
A family that functions primarily as a love nest (which characterizes
19 percent of Russians) consists of a good-looking, healthy, sexy man and
a faithful woman who has similar characteristics. That this type of family
is singled out as a separate model is not accidental. In Russia today, on the
whole general, if we are talking of dominant normative models, in the opinion of most of the population, the sexual aspect of life in general is not very
important in regard to the happiness of the married partners. Moreover, as
was indicated above, for most Russians an unsatisfactory sex life in no way
rules out happiness in family life: 46 percent (!) of married Russians who rate
their sex life as unsatisfactory say that they already have a happy family, and
23 percent of them think they will have a happy family. Clearly, this attitude
toward this sphere of family life, as something secondary and not of decisive
importance for a happy family life, has become one reason why not everything
is going smoothly in the sexual sphere of most Russians. Only 44 percent
of them say they have a good sex life, while 12 percent rate it as unsatisfactory, and moreover, women negatively rate the condition of this aspect
of their lives two times more often than men do (16 percent and 8 percent,
respectively). Paradoxical as it may seem, the least satisfactory situation in
this regard is seen in big cities: only 44 percent of megalopolis residents who
are married (including those in common-law marriages) rate their sex life as
good, whereas for married representatives in the other population centers
this indicator is not lower than 51 percent. Even in regard to young people no
older than thirty-five and married, while on the whole they are more satisfied
with this aspect of their lives, in one-third of the cases they rate their sex life
only as satisfactory or unsatisfactory.
So, as we see, when Russians start a family by no means do they always
set the goal of ensuring a comfortable system of personal relations in general
and sexual relations in particular. In any case, a majority of them do not make
such a goal the cornerstone. However, there are also people who are unwilling
to agree with this posing of the question. This distinguishes them from the

28 SOCIOLOGical Research

others and presupposes the existence of the love nest model of the family
as a separate type of preference in the context of relations between husbands
and wives. The kind of family that is created for the sake of having and
raising children, which is selected as the optimal model by 18 percent of
Russians, is created by married partners who are faithful in love and who love
their children. In general, only 2 percent of Russians have no plans to raise
good children; children are viewed as a vital life value and as an essential
component of a happy family. However, the presence of children in a family,
even though it still remains an important social norm for Russians (O chem,
2013), is not, at the same time, a fundamental consideration when it comes
to creating a family. This is why, in choosing a spouse, a major portion of
Russians do not take into account the persons potential as a parent, while
the opposite position attests to a special attitude toward the family and its
reproductive function.
It is worth mentioning that among young people up to age twenty-five, to
a lesser extent in comparison with the population as a whole, the preference
is for the model of the family as household (25 percent and 32 percent, respectively), whereas in the older age group (forty-five to fifty-five) the picture
is reversed, specifically in this group it is selected relatively more frequently
(37 percent). At the same time, megalopolis residents have almost no firmly
expressed preferences in this regard: those who are in favor of all models of
family relations add up to about a quarter of the sample in these cities (27
percent, 28 percent, 22 percent, and 24 percent, respectively), whereas among
the inhabitants of other population centers the differentials in the prevalence
of orientations toward the different models of the family run as high as one
and a half times. It is curious, although not surprising, to note, moreover, that
men are more likely than women to prefer the love nest model (24 percent
and 15 percent, respectively) but less likely to prefer family as household
model (28 percent and 33 percent, respectively). These two types of families,
respectively, impose on them minimal and maximal obligations.
The ones who are most successful in their family lives (among those who are
officially married or in unregistered unions), according to their own estimates,
are those who favor the family as household model: among them, 71 percent
rate their relations in the family as good. It is clear that the traditional model
of the family, which is based on the joint running of the household, is the one
that best proves its worth even today. Those who are least successful in their
family lives favor the model of the family as the zone of comfort: only half
of them (52 percent) rate relations in their families as good. It is clear that the
demand for a family as a union of partners that provides the married couple
with mutual comfort, arises either in connection with a current situation in
the family that is not very good, or when the married couples expectations

septemberoctober 2014 29

oriented toward this model of the family are so different that it is very difficult
for the partners to understand them and satisfy them. Naturally, this creates
additional risks of worsening relations in this family type and peoples lack
of satisfaction with their family life as a whole.
In summarizing let me emphasize that the processes of the rationalization
and pragmatization of social life in Russia that characterize modernization
as a whole, far from turning the family as an institution into an atavism,
have actually, in addition, preserved the traditional views of the gender roles
of the married partners in a family. However, they have coincided with the
formation of a diversity of ideas regarding the ideal family model, depending on the key function that Russians assign to it in their own lives. Under
these conditions the traditional economic function of the family as its basic
function is beginning to compete with the function of creating a psychological comfort microenvironment of habitation. On the whole it is reasonable to
say that with the still persisting (at least for half of the countrys population)
firm rootedness of traditional ideas about gender roles in the context of the
family, we are also observing their erosion through the ongoing formation of
a diversity of its forms depending on the most relevant functions. In and of
themselves, moreover, gender relations are more and more often beginning
to be viewed outside of any orientation toward family life; the roles of the
man and the woman are becoming separate from the roles of husband
and wife, and for women the difference in the requirements in regard to
the roles they perform is considerably larger than it is for men. This is also
leading to the erosion of traditional ideas about gender roles. The places
that foster the erosion of ideas about what ideal married partners should be
like, ideas that characterize Russian culture, are the youth environment and
the megalopolises where we find an increased demand for life companions
of the kind that ensure not only everyday, ordinary comfort but also socio
psychological comfort.
All of these things attest that processes of social, sociocultural, and demographic modernization in Russia are also applicable to the sphere of gender
relations, which include family relations. The manifestations of this today
are observed not only in the new forms of marital and parental relations but
also in the modification of needs in this sphere of the meanings that make up
various aspects of relations between men and women.
Notes
1. These studies of the national sense of identity were carried out in 2003 in the
context of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP).
2. Here and henceforth, unless otherwise stated, we cite data from an all-Russian

30 SOCIOLOGical Research

representative study conducted by the Institute of Sociology, Russian Academy of


Sciences, in March 2012, What Russians Dream of (Reflections of Sociologists).
The sample size (which was representative for the population ages sixteen to fifty-five,
broken down by region of residence, gender, age, and type of population centers)
was 1,751 people.
3. According to the data of an all-Russian thematic study, The Woman in the New
Russia: Who Is She? What Is Her Life Like? What Does She Strive For?; for more
detail, see Zhenshchina (2002), carried out by the Institute for Comprehensive Social
Research, Russian Academy of Sciences, in March 2002. The sample size was 1,406
women ages seventeen to fifty.
4. These models have been singled out on the basis of a two-step cluster analysis, a
procedure that makes it possible to classify objects by using the method of maximum
likelihood. The number of clusters is determined in the course of the procedure.
5. For the purpose of describing the models, not the most widely prevalent traits
are cited but the specific traits.
6. For Russians with preferences regarding the family in the context of the model
of the family as a comfort zone.

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