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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Marriage, Divorce, and the Family

As early as the mid-1970s, open acknowledgment and frank discussions of demographic problems in the Soviet Union began to take place. The family, as "the key social unit," was at the center of these discussions. For many years, population growth was taken for granted. In the 1970s, however, authorities became concerned about declining birth rates in the European part of the Soviet Union, especially among Russians. In addition to urbanization and industrialization, other factors affecting family size were rising divorce rates, an acute shortage of housing, and poor health care. Another factor was that Slavic weomen had the world's highest abortion rates.

The Twenty-Fifth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1976 was the first to recognize that the Soviet Union had a demographic problem, and it proposed measures to deal with "the aggravation of the demographic situation." Two key areas pertaining to the family were mentioned as contributing to an intensification of population problems: the lowering of birth rates to levels below those necessary for replacement and for guaranteeing an adequate supply of labor; and continuing high rates of divorce. The Twenty-Sixth Party Congress (1981) and the TwentySeventh Party Congress (1986) established a pronatalist policy that probably accounted for a slight upswing in fertility as the decade progressed.

In the 1970s and 1980s, some population problems were associated with a developmental trend that the socialist system had traditionally encouraged, i.e., urbanization and industrialization. The demographic price for this process is normally paid in declining birth rates and shrinking family sizes. An efficient modern economy ordinarily can adjust to a smaller work force. The Soviet economy, however, has remained relatively labor intensive in the key agricultural and industrial sectors, and as a result there were labor shortages in many of the larger cities.

The 1979 census registered more than 66 million families; by the mid-1980s there were about 70 million families. In 1979 the overwhelming majority (86.2 percent) of urban families consisted of two to four members. In the urban areas of the European part, in particular, the trend was to limit the number of children to two and in many cases to only one. In 1979 about 60 percent of the families with children under eighteen years of age had only one child; 33 percent had two children. The negative consequences of this trend, especially in the European part of the country, led the government to begin an active campaign to encourage families to have a third child.

Data as of May 1989