Country Listing

East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany


The Family

The traditional German family was patriarchally organized. The father was the head of the household and the ultimate authority on all family matters. The mother centered her life around the three Ks--Kirche, Kinder, und Küche (church, children, and kitchen). Children were expected to submit to the will of their parents and ideally to reflect the qualities of obedience, responsibility, and respect. The typical family unit was the nuclear household, but ties with the extended family were maintained, and a close relationship existed with relatives. War, industrialization, and urbanization had important implications for family organization and patterns of relationships. In the postwar period, the communist regime has treated the family as the smallest collective unit of society and emphasized its role in the political socialization and education of children.

The family is protected and its relationship outlined in the Family Code of 1965 and in the Constitution. The Family Code is considered a fairly progressive document. It delineates the relationships between husband and wife and between parents and children, recognizes the equality and mutual respect of the sexes, and stipulates the joint responsibility of the parents with regard to the education of their children. The Constitution places "marriage, family, and motherhood . . . under the special protection of the state."

Women are given complete equality with their husbands under the law. Either the wife's or the husband's name may be chosen as the family name. Husbands are expected to support and encourage their wives in pursuing an education and/or employment opportunities. Both spouses jointly own property earned after the marriage, although each retains the rights to any possessions acquired before marriage.

The legal age of marriage is eighteen for both men and women. Marriage ages have declined over the years, and by the early 1980s the average marriage age for both partners was in the midtwenties . Marriage must be performed by an authorized official of the state and be properly registered. In the mid-1980s, divorce rates were relatively high; divorce occurred primarily in marriages that were in their second to seventh years. Women initiated an increasing number of divorce suits. Common causes of divorce were infidelity, incompatibility, and drinking. A divorce was not difficult to obtain if neither spouse objected. The couple simply filed an application and paid a fee determined on the basis of the couple's income. In 90 percent of divorces, the mother retained custody of any children involved in the suit.

Most young couples have preferred a small family of one or two children. A liberal abortion law, promulgated in 1972 amid protest from religious circles, permits abortion upon the request of the mother. Before the enactment of the law, over 100,000 illegal abortions were estimated to have been performed annually. As of the mid-1980s, information on contraceptive methods was available to the public, and women could obtain birth control pills at no cost.

At the same time, motherhood is encouraged and accorded an honored role in society. The state is concerned about declining birthrates and has implemented a program of benefits and services designed to make motherhood more attractive (see Population Structure and Dynamics , this ch.). An elaborate network of daycare centers provides care for the child while the mother is at work. In 1984 there were 6,605 year-round day nurseries with room for 296,653 children. These nurseries provided care for 63 percent of eligible children.

The working woman/mother is highly regarded by society. Work is considered a social responsibility as well as a right. A woman's right to work is, in the first instance, an ideological commitment on the part of the state and the communist rulers, but it is also a necessity given the shortage of manpower. Yet for all the relative equality in the workplace, in the mid-1980s the majority of household chores still fell to women. Surveys have indicated that women assumed most of the burden for cooking, cleaning, washing, and shopping and that they performed these tasks in addition to their regular employment outside the home.

One of the major social responsibilities of parents is the education of their children. The Constitution notes that "it is the right and the noblest duty of parents to raise their children to become healthy, joyous, competent, universally educated, and state-conscious citizens." Parents teach their children by providing role models and by actively participating in their formal education. In the mid-1980s, parents' councils operated within the schools to review and discuss curriculum, instruction, and educational standards. Official propaganda continually emphasized the need for conformity in values between the home and collective institutions in society. Parents were admonished not to confuse the child by allowing conflicting standards of behavior within the family.

The family continues to influence strongly the life of the average citizen. Despite the social, economic, and political changes that have occurred, family ties remain solid and close; some observers suggest that ties within the extended family are even stronger in East Germany than in West Germany. Observers also have noted a tendency for East Germans to turn inward toward the family as one of the few areas of "private" life left open to the individual.

Data as of July 1987

Country Listing

East Germany Table of Contents