Marriage. Legal marriages are civil or religious. Free unions comprise roughly one-quarter of the couples living together. The proportion of children born outside legal marriage is close to 40 percent. Ideals of mutual aid expected of family members (spouses, children, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents) are formally required by the Family Code of the country. Some forms of family behavior are attributed to machismo and to marianismo (moral and spiritual superiority of women), as well as to vestiges of the Spanish traditional sex roles. Modernity has brought changes in authority patterns. Divorce is no longer the scandal it once was; separation and desertion are common. For the most part, families take care of the aged, but a trend of placing them in homes for the elderly has arisen. The churches and the government have programs addressed to family life.
Inheritance. The law requires that a surviving spouse inherit half of the possessions of the couple and the other half be divided among the offspring; other relatives may inherit if there are no spouses or children. There is a strong tendency toward equal inheritance.
Socialization. Most Costa Ricans love and desire children. A child's first birthday is a great occasion. Besides parents, other relatives participate in the care of children. There may also be helpers for this task. The services of nursery schools and kindergartens are increasingly sought. In rural areas, 5and 6-year-olds are given duties such as running errands or picking coffee. Eight-to 10-year-old girls may perform all the household chores. Young girls are expected to help around the house more than boys are. Punishments are less harsh in the late twentieth century than they were in mid-century. The Family Code obliges parents to be moderate. Upper-class parents emphasize responsibility, honor, loyalty, and self-esteem. The middle class stresses the values of occupational success, personal realization, individual independence, honesty, and generosity. Working-class parents expect obedience, respect, self-discipline, and honesty. Girls' fifteenth birthdays ( quinceañeras ) are well-defined rites of passage, celebrated with a religious ceremony and a party. School graduations of both sexes are likewise celebrated. Legal maturity is at age 18. Young men and women usually stay with their families until they get married. If they remain single, they are not asked to leave but may do so.