The Family

The Family

In traditional Hungary, the family served as the basic social unit. It had multiple functions, providing security and identity to individuals and reinforcing social values. In rural areas, it was also the basic economic unit--all members worked together for the material well-being of the whole family. Even before World War II, however, family cohesion began to decrease as members became increasingly mobile. But the process of change quickened after the communist takeover. Intensive industrialization and forced collectivization prompted many of the younger peasants to leave agriculture for industrial work or other jobs in the cities, some commuting long distances between home and work. Patterns of family life changed. A growing number of women worked outside the home, and children spent much of their time in school or in youth organization activities. Family members spent less time together. The emphasis in daily life shifted from the family to the outside world. Most members of the extended family came together only for important ceremonies, such as weddings or funerals, and other special occasions.

Changes in the traditional roles of family members were dramatic. The dominance of the male head of the family diminished. The remaining family members had greater independence. Most notably, the role of women changed. By 1987 about 75 percent of working-age women were gainfully employed. Even peasant women became wage earners on the collective farms. This fact altered women's status in the family and the community. However, most observers agreed that in the 1980s males were still viewed as the head of most households, if only because of their generally higher incomes.

As women increasingly worked outside the home, their husbands and children assumed some domestic functions, helping with household chores more than they had before. Outside institutions such as schools and nurseries also took over tasks formerly carried out by women within the home. Nevertheless, time budget studies indicated that women were still responsible for most of the child rearing and housework despite their employment outside the home. Women usually worked longer hours than men. Working women spent an average of more than four hours each day on household chores, including child care, while men averaged ninety-seven minutes in such activities. However, the time spent by women in outside employment was not correspondingly shorter than that of men, averaging only 1.5 hours less than men. Women devoted less time than men to leisure activities, such as watching television, socializing, and engaging in sports. (According to the same studies, women did read approximately as many books as men but spent much less time on newspapers and periodicals.)

The state viewed marriage as a secular matter, governed by civil law. A civil marriage was mandatory, but couples were allowed to supplement the procedure with a religious ceremony. The greatest number of both men and women married between the ages of twenty and twenty-four (44.6 percent of all men and 41.3 percent of all women for those marrying in 1987). The law assigned equal rights and obligations to both partners in a marriage.

In the 1980s, social analysts considered the family to be an institution under considerable stress. Statistics supported this contention. From 1975 to 1986, the divorce rate increased from 2.5 to 2.8 per 1,000 population. In the 1980s, every third marriage ended in divorce. The rate of remarriage also dropped significantly. In 1987 about 66,000 marriages were performed, and about 95,600 marriages were terminated as a result of death or divorce. Almost 12 percent of all families were headed by a single parent.

A primary source of stress within families, according to many observers, was the scarcity of adequate housing, especially for young families. In many families, members faced the pressures and exhaustion of trying to hold down multiple jobs. Another source of tension within families was the prevalence of commuting. Although in 1960 one in every eight workers commuted, in the 1980s one in every four commuted. One million or more villagers commuted to the cities to work. This figure did not include long-distance commuters who lived in temporary quarters near their workplaces and returned home weekly or more infrequently. In 1980 such workers numbered about 270,000, bringing the total number of commuters to about 1.5 million.

Despite the statistics, most observers found that the cohesive force of the family remained relatively strong in the 1980s. For many people, the family continued to be a source of personal comfort and reassurance in the face of worsening economic conditions. The traditional sense of family loyalty and responsibility also seemed to survive. Family members continued to help each other in finding jobs or housing, in gaining admission to schools, and in providing for each other in times of need.

Country Studies main page | Hungary Country Studies main page