Peru Table of Contents
Figure 6. Estimated Population by Age and Sex, 1990
El Agustino, a northern Lima district and "young town"
Courtesy Inter-American Development Bank
Uru children (descendants of the Lupacas) in a totorareed hut on Lake Titicaca's floating island
Much has been said about kinship and family in Latin America. The "Peruvian family" is of course not a homogeneous entity, but rather reflects both ethnic and socioeconomic factors. If there is a generalization to be made, however, it is that families in Peru, no matter what their status, show a high degree of unity, purpose, and integration through generations, as well as in the nuclear unit. The average size for families for the nation as a whole is 5.1 persons per household, with the urban areas registering slightly more than this and, contrary to what might be expected, rural families, especially in the highlands, being smaller, with a national average size of 4.9 persons. This apparent anomaly runs counter to the expected image of the rural family. This is because the highland families that constitute the bulk of rural households have been deeply affected by the heavy migration of their members to the cities, coastal farms, and Selva colonizations.
The roles of the different family members and sexes tend to follow rather uniform patterns within social class and cultural configurations. In terms of family affairs, Hispanic Peruvian patterns are strongly centered on the father as family head, although women increasingly occupy this titular role in rural as well as urban areas, amounting to 20 percent of all households. As is the pattern in other countries, women have increasingly sought wage and salaried work to meet family needs. This, coupled with the fact that social and economic stress has forced a departure from the traditionally practiced versions, the patriarchal family is gradually losing its place as the model of family life. Contributing to these changes are the neolocality of nuclear families living in cities and the loss of male populations in rural areas through migration and various povertyrelated conditions that lead men to abandon their families. Families are patricentric, and the male head of household is considered the authority. His wife follows him in this respect, yet exercises considerable control over her own affairs with respect to property and marketing. This gender and lineage hierarchy is to be seen as families walk single-file to market, each carrying their bundles, the husband leading the way, followed by his wife and then the children.
In many Quechua communities, the ancient kinship system of patrilineages (called kastas in some areas) survives. It is thought to have been the basis for the Incaic clan village, the ayllu (see Glossary). In a patrilineal system, wives belong to their father's lineage and their children to their father's side of the family tree. This differs from the Hispanic system, which is bilateral, that is, including one's mother's kin as part of the extended family, as in the British system. Where the native Americans follow a patrilineal system, families are at once at odds with the formal requirement of Peruvian law, which demands the use of both paternal and maternal names as part of one's official identity, thus forcing the bilateral pattern on them.
In many Hispanic mestizo homes, fathers often exercise strong authoritarian roles, controlling the family budget, administering discipline, and representing the group interest to the external world. Mothers in these homes, on the other hand, often control and manage the internal affairs in the household, assigning tasks to children and to the female servant(s) present in virtually every urban middle- and upper-class home. For children school is de rigueur, and the more well-to-do, the more certain it is that they attend a private school, where the educational standards approach or equal good schools in other countries. The home is prized and well-cared for, with patios and yards protected by glass-studded walls and, in recent years, by electrical devices to keep out thieves.
The lower-class household in the urban areas--such as Lima, Trujillo, or Arequipa--presents the other side of this coin. In metropolitan Lima, 7 percent of the population lives in a tugurio (inner-city barrio) and 47 percent in a squatter settlement. The older pueblos jovenes erected in the 1950s had the look in 1990 of concrete middle-class permanency, with electricity, water, and sewerage. The newer invaded areas, however, had a raw and dusty look: housing appeared ramshackle, made of bamboo matting (esteras) and miscellaneous construction materials scrounged from any available source. Here, as in the tugurios, the domestic scene reveals a constant scramble for existence: the men generally leave at the crack of dawn to travel via long bus routes to reach work sites, often in heavy construction, where without protective gear, such as hard hats or steel-toed shoes, they haul iron bars and buckets of cement up rickety planks and scaffolding. With an abundance of men desperate for work, modern buildings are raised more with intensive labor than machinery.
Women's roles in the squatter settlements cover a wide variety of tasks, including hauling water from corner spigots and beginning the daily preparation of food over kerosene stoves. In the 1975-91 period, the food supply for substantial numbers of the urban lower class in Lima and other coastal cities came from the United States Food for Peace (Public Law 480) programs administered by private voluntary organizations. Women also keep their wide-ranging family members connected, seeking the food supply with meager funds, and doing various short-term jobs for cash. According to social scientist Carol Graham, the poor urban areas have a high percentage of female-headed households, as well as a large number of abandoned mothers who are left with the full responsibility for supporting their households and raising the children.
Data as of September 1992
Peru Table of Contents