Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Matrimonial Behaviour in Canada and Ukraine: The Enduring Hold of Culture

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Matrimonial Behaviour in Canada and Ukraine: The Enduring Hold of Culture

Article excerpt


In an important article, published over three decades ago, John Hajnal (1965) established the existence of an East-West marriage pattern divide in Europe. Late, marriage and the high proportion of never-marrying have been historically prevalent among Europe's NorthWestern populations; young and quasi-universal marriages are by contrast typical of Eastern European populations. In Hajnal's demarcation the dividing line runs from St. Petersbourg to Triest. These marriage patterns are linked to domestic arrangements - nuclear family households in North/Western Europe and extensive family households in Eastern Europe. Under Western Europe's heirship system the eldest son was the sole inheritor of the family's holding; the other siblings remained single or sought a living elsewhere as labourers or, girls in particular, as "live-in servants". Limitations placed thus on marriage were effective leverages for maintaining the birth rate at a relatively low level before direct fertility control took hold. Consequently, population pressure on the available land was kept in check. There were no such limitations on marriage in the Eastern Europe matrimonial tradition, and the birth rate was high.

The simple family household and late marriage can be seen as a demographic adaptation to the economic conditions in North/Western Europe. Furthermore, a relationship is postulated to have existed between lateness of marriage, unmarried wage earners, accumulation of capital through saving, and the take-off of economic development that eventually evolved into capitalism in North/Western Europe. The simple household/late marriage nexus is viewed as an unique Western experience, but one which stands to gain in scope as Western values spread throughout the world.

Whereas Hajnal's and other similar studies have dealt with the earlier historic Eurol-, the present study focuses on more contemporary matrimonial history, starting with the inception of the demographic transition in the late 19th century. By the same token, the arguments underlying the "Western" and "Eastern" marriage configuration have been broadened and reformulated to take into account the contemporary marital experience. Geographically, the study is confined to Canada and Ukraine. Whereas the former stands for "Western", the latter stands for "Eastern" marriage patterns1.

The choice of Canada and Ukraine as a case study of comparative matrimonial behaviour is dictated by subjective considerations - the authors' first-hand knowledge of their respective countries - as well as objective considerations. The two countries are deemed to represent wider regional entities which, in addition to their aforementioned distinctive marital cultures, differ in a number of essential respects.

Canada, a liberal democracy and a free market economy, managed to secure its citizens a high degree of political freedom and personal choice in occupational matters and life style. By contrast, Ukraine's citizenry, under the spell of Soviet rule for over seventy years, had to contend with severe limitations in matters of personal choice. Although both countries have achieved similar levels of industrialisation and urbanisation, as well as similar professional and occupational profiles, there were substantial differences in quality of material life. In contrast to Canada's relative affluence, Ukraine's situation was that of chronic scarcity of consumer goods throughout practically all of Soviet rule. Particularly depressing from the stand point of family formation was the acute shortage of housing. Employment, however, was quasi assured in Ukraine even though there was little personal flexibility in terms of salary and job location. Female labour force participation in Ukraine has always been very high, on par with that of males both in lower occupational strata and higher professional jobs. Only in the last two decades or so has Canada caught up in the drive toward a more gender-balanced work force. …

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