Family

Family

The Marxist position on the family is found in The Origin of Family, Private Property, and the State by Friedrich Engels. Its basic premise is that the patriarchal family and its subjugation and exploitation of women and children were born out of private-property relationships. Under socialism the abolition of private property would result in relationships between couples founded solely on love, and the emphasis on collective life would diminish the importance of the family as a unit for nurturing children.

The Evolution of Family Law

Family law in socialist Romania was modeled after Soviet family legislation. From the outset, it sought to undermine the influence of religion on family life. Under the ancien régime, the church was the center of community life, and marriage, divorce, and recording of births were matters for religious authorities. Under communism these events became affairs of the state, and legislation designed to wipe out the accumulated traditions and ancient codes was enacted. The communist regime required marriage to be legalized in a civil ceremony at the local registry prior to, or preferably instead of, the customary church wedding. Overall, a more liberal legal atmosphere prevailed, granting women greater rights within the family. The predominance of the husband was reduced, and the wife was given equal control over children and property and was entitled to keep her maiden name. The divorce procedure was greatly facilitated. In fact, if both parties wanted a divorce, and there were no children involved, the dissolution of the marriage could be accomplished simply by sending a joint statement to the local registry office. In addition to the right to divorce with relative ease, abortion on demand was introduced in 1957.

Because of the more liberal procedures, the divorce rate grew dramatically, tripling by 1960, and the number of abortions also increased rapidly. Concern for population reproduction and future labor supplies prompted the state to revise the Romanian Family Code to foster more stable personal relationships and strengthen the family. At the end of 1966, abortion was virtually outlawed, and a new divorce decree made the dissolution of marriage exceedingly difficult.

As part of the program to increase birthrates, the legal age for marriage was lowered to fifteen years for women in 1984, and yet the rate of marriage remained quite steady--on average about 9 marriages per 1,000 people per year. The divorce rate remained well below 1 per 1,000 until 1974. A study published in 1988, however, showed that the divorce rate had risen steadily since 1974, although not to the pre-1966 level. It must be noted, however, that divorces were measured against the total population and not the total number of marriages, which disguised the rising rate. The primary causes of divorce were violence and alcoholism. The study concluded that marital instability was once again a growing problem.

Much family legislation concerned women in the workplace and was designed to increase the size of families. Provisions for pregnant women and working mothers were comprehensive and generous. Expectant and nursing mothers were not permitted to work under hazardous conditions, were exempt from overtime work, and after the sixth month of pregnancy and while nursing were exempt from night work--all with no reduction in salary. Nursing mothers were entitled to feeding breaks, which could total two hours per day-- also with no reduction in pay. In addition, women were allowed paid maternity leave of 112 days--52 days prior to and 60 days after delivery. They were also entitled to paid leave to care for sick children under three years of age. Without loss of benefits, mothers were permitted to take a leave of absence from work to raise a child to the age of six, or they could request half-time work.

Changes in Family Structure

Not only did households become smaller--mostly because of a lower fertility rate--there was also a transition from the traditional extended family of three generations in a single household to the nuclear family of only a couple and their children. By the late 1960s, only 21.5 percent of families had grandparents living with them. This trend was hastened by improved old-age pensions that made it unnecessary for the elderly to live with their children and by the cramped quarters of urban living. However, in the countryside, where about half of Romanian families still lived in the late 1980s, families tended to have more children, and extended families were common. And even when parents and their children lived in separate households, the close relations of kinship were not abolished, even after one or the other had moved to the city. Strong ties between households were evident in the extended family strategies that were aimed at maximizing resources by placing family members in various sectors of the economy. This process led to jointly owned property such as livestock, joint cultivation of garden plots, and shared material comforts from salaried labor.

Family Life

The process of socialist modernization greatly affected family life. Through education and a comprehensive welfare system, the state assumed responsibility for providing assistance and transmitting values. Although the family was identified as the fundamental unit of socialist society, and it heavily influenced the values of the younger generation, its primary role had become population reproduction. Even that role was no longer a private matter, but was subject to the whim of government policy. But the prediction that socialism would provide for the transfer of domestic duties from the home to the public sector fell far short of fruition. In 1989 communal dining facilities and public laundries were still largely unavailable, and because the tertiary sector of the economy received the lowest priority, services such as house cleaning, home repairs, and dry cleaning were either inadequate or nonexistent.

Consumer durables to lighten the burden of housework were available only to a privileged few. In the late 1960s, only 7.3 percent of households had electric refrigerators, 22.6 percent had gas stoves, 9.5 percent had washing machines, 3.2 percent had vacuum cleaners, and 38.8 percent had electric irons. By the late 1980s, the situation had improved somewhat, but the majority still lacked these items. In addition to the difficulties associated with home maintenance, shopping for the family was laborious and timeconsuming . The dearth of refrigerators and freezers forced most families to shop for food every day and because supermarkets were scarce, shopping entailed trips to several different stores where the customer typically had to stand in one queue to select merchandise and in another to pay for it. Inadequate public transportation made shopping even more toilsome.

Family life for rural Romanians differed in many respects from that of urban families. Their living standards were lower, and they maintained values and behavior patterns that were firmly rooted in traditional peasant life. The unavailability of electricity to many rural households made it impossible for them to use refrigerators and washing machines, which in many cases would have been prohibitively expensive. Even when electricity was available and they could afford the appliances, many peasant women still did their laundry at the stream because it was a traditional site of social interaction. Using a washing machine gave a woman a reputation for being lazy and antisocial. Likewise, many rural families eschewed refrigerators in favor of traditional ways of preserving food. Perhaps because farm produce was a source of income for many rural families, they consumed far less fresh meat, vegetables, and fruit than urban families, and the staple of the rural diet remained maize porridge flavored with cabbage, cheese, onion, or milk. This frugal everyday diet was interspersed with feasting on special occasions such as weddings, funerals, Easter, and Christmas.

Rural family life was much more heavily influenced by religion than was urban society. Romanian Orthodoxy, rich in tradition, dictated the rhythm of life in a calendar of numerous holiday celebrations. Church attendance in rural areas far surpassed that in urban places. Most rural people viewed the civil marriage ceremony required by the state as a mere formality and lived together only after a church wedding. In addition, divorce was much less common in rural parts. Rural families spent a remarkable amount of free time in church and in church-related activities. The average sermon lasted more than three hours. Visiting, folk music, folk dancing, and listening to the radio were other popular activities. Urban families, on the other hand, exhibited more secularized values and were more likely to use their free time to pursue cultural activities.

Although industrialization, urbanization, and education did not eliminate the cultural gap between rural and urban Romania, these processes did narrow it. Rural-urban contact occurred daily though commuting, and the accoutrements of urban living trickled back to families even in the most remote areas. Furthermore, although the influence of religion was not eradicated, it certainly declined, especially in urban areas, creating an unforeseen problem. Surveys indicated that the socialist ethics and values that the state expected the educational system to instill had not filled the void left by fading religious values.

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