Russian Peasants - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Historically, marriage among the Russian peasantry, as in most peasant populations, was the result of a deal, struck between two kindreds, involving exchanges of goods, rights to land, and rights to the labor power of individuals. Marriage was marked by highly elaborate ceremonial, some of it of pagan origin, with a markedly theatrical bent. It was also typically marked by a religious ceremony, but this was quite separate, and in many places cohabitation was assumed to begin with the completion of this peasant ritual cycle, whereas the religious ceremony might be delayed until the services of a priest were available or until the birth of the first child.

Marriage was normally virilocal, but in some cases, when there were no other males available, the bridegroom moved in with his in-laws, taking charge of their farm and inheriting it upon their death.

Formal divorce was extremely rare in the traditional peasant community and was usually accompanied by some degree of scandal and conflict. The Orthodox church, in particular, made no provision for divorce.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit was a patrilineal extended family, often incomplete. The household unit usually persisted until the death of the senior male, after which the brothers separated and set up new households.

Inheritance. Inheritance applied only when the household broke up, or when a given individual separated from it, since the peasant household traditionally was a corporate unit that survived the death of any particular individual. Both specifically female property and certain kinds of male property (larger tools and craft equipment) were inherited separately and were not subject to division on the breakup of the household. Under modern conditions, the corporate nature of the household has been severely qualified, though it has not disappeared entirely. Inheritance of personal property was subject to the norms of general Soviet law.

Socialization. In the pre-Revolutionary Russian village, peasant children learned from their parents all the peasant skills appropriate to their gender. Formal education was unavailable in most places and, where it did exist, included only two or four years of instruction. Children who were considered promising might be sent to the church school in the nearest large town.

The Soviet regime instituted a system of primary and secondary education. Postsecondary schooling is also widely available, particularly for those with the proper sponsorship and political credentials. On the other hand, available sources reveal very little about the mechanisms of informal socialization and training in traditional peasant skills. The development of the modern Russian village is hindered by the fact that there is a pronounced drain of young people out of rural areas to the cities and also by the fact that agriculture and rural occupations generally have very low prestige.

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