Danes - Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. Danish kinship nomenclature was and is bifurcate-collateral in type, differing from English primarily in that uncles, aunts, and grandparents are terminologically distinguished as father's side or mother's side, and blood relatives are always distinguished from relatives by marriage. For example, Danes distinguish father's brother from mother's brother and mother's mother from father's mother. They trace Descent bilaterally, but a patrilineal emphasis was visible in the inheritance of property primarily through the male line until recent times, when gender became less determinative. Aristocrats also demonstrate their patrilineal emphasis in the inheritance of family names through the male line. Peasants did not get family names until late in the nineteenth century. Until then, one simply got the name of one's father. Thus Peter Rasmussen was the son of Rasmus Andersen, who in turn was the son of Anders Jensen, and so on. Daughters took the last names of their fathers or husbands.

Marriage. Women married into the circumstances of their grooms, whether landed or landless. Property owners tended to arrange marriages for their sons and daughters so that the young couple could have a farm of their own. Marriage was neolocal insofar as newlyweds usually set up housekeeping on their own. A patrilocal quality was imparted, however, by the tendency to settle in the community of the groom's family or even to take over the farm of the groom's parents. Divorce was difficult to obtain legally and was strongly censured by village opinion and church morality. Adultery in the village was regarded as highly reprehensible. Unmarried mothers were ostracized. A woman encountered no difficulty, However, if a pregnancy occurred before marriage but in betrothal, especially when a gold ring had been given to the young woman. Many couples hitherto only casually joined saved the situation when a pregnancy occurred by announcing that they were engaged. Premarital sexual activity was, in fact, common, and young men in many villages were permitted to sleep over in the bed of a young woman in the custom called night courting. Village customs thus set the stage for the Sexual freedom and independence of both women and men that is characteristic of Denmark today.

Family. Traditionally, the Danes practiced monogamy. They lived in nuclear families that became stem families when old parents were cared for by an inheriting son. Today, many children are born to parents united in consensual unions. Single-parent families are common. One-fourth of all marriages terminate in divorce. The stem family has become obsolete as retired parents are provided with good care by the welfare system.

Inheritance. Primogeniture was formerly the rule. Younger sons acquired farms by purchase or partial inheritance, worked as landless laborers residing in small cottages, or migrated to town to find work or enter a trade. Beginning in the nineteenth century, many of these younger sons and daughters migrated to the United States, particularly to Michigan and Wisconsin. Inheritance today no longer discriminates consistently on the basis of birth order and gender.

Socialization. The Danes characteristically welcomed the birth of both boys and girls. In traditional village life, Children's play was permitted, but it was unsupervised and unsupported. Children created their own toys. Even in the nineteenth century, most boys and girls went to school enough to become literate. From earliest childhood, however, they were expected to contribute to the work of the family by tending lifestock such as flocks of fowl, carrying water, and helping adults at their work. Consistent with an ethic of Village communalism—though the principle is long extinct in its historical form—children today still are taught to control and suppress aggression. The censorship of movies in recent decades did not permit the showing of violence but made no objection to films showing sexually explicit scenes as long as nobody was maimed or killed. The Danish child is encouraged to be dependent on his or her mother more than is true for an American child. The principal form of discipline is guilt. The mother lets the child know how hurt she is and how bad she feels because of his or her behavior. Adult Danes thus show a psychiatric vulnerability to any loss of dependency through death, separation, or divorce. They also tend to be obedient citizens.

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