Since the collapse of the USSR, former Soviet republics have gone through significant economic, political and social changes which could not but affect people's attitudes and values.
Lopatina, Kostenko, and Ponarin compared attitudes to family values and sexual norms across eight post-Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. They used findings from the sixth wave of the World Values Survey (WVS), and compared the countries from three different perspectives: Muslim vs. Christian, industrial vs. agricultural, and religious vs. secular.
Perhaps the most surprising finding was that middle-aged people tend to be more liberal about family norms than the younger generation.
The study found that that people in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine are more liberal and accepting of abortion, divorce, and premarital sex. They are closely followed by Kazakhstan, while Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Armenia share about the same, fairly low, level of liberalism.
Graph 1. Acceptance of abortion, divorce, and premarital sex (cumulative index)
One of the study's objectives was to examine whether religiosity and adherence to Islam have an effect on attitudes towards emancipation and on family norms. The findings reveal that adherence to Islam is not a key factor in whether sexual and family norms are more or less restrictive. "It follows from our data that people in different Muslim countries do not necessarily share the same family values," the researchers note.
The researchers used data from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan to illustrate this statement. While Kazakhstan has predominantly Muslim population, family norms there are much more liberal than in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Religiosity, rather than the type of religion, plays an important role, though. "It is often assumed that Islamic countries are much stricter about morals than others; however respondents in Armenia, a Christian country, demonstrate far more intolerance towards abortion, divorce, and particularly premarital sex than respondents in Kazakhstan, a Muslim country where the level of religiosity is much lower," the researchers explain.
Graph 2. Levels of religiosity in the countries studied
The study also confirms that people's attitudes in industrial societies, such as Kazakhstan and Belarus, tend to be more liberal than those in agrarian countries, such as Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
This is consistent with Inglehart's modernisation theory, which states that the cultural and religious attitudes of a society as well as its economic development both have determining influence on values.
One of the study's interesting findings was that both older and younger people tend to be more conservative about family norms than those aged between 35 and 45. "Older people's conservative views may reflect the dominant values in their formative years, while middle-age people may have developed more liberal attitudes during the Soviet modernisation period of the late 1970s and 1980s," the researchers suggest.
As for younger people, they may have adopted relatively archaic social norms due to the rise of conservatism in the post-Soviet period amidst an ideological vacuum. According to the authors, after the collapse of Soviet values, a new value system took a while to develop, and the interim state of moral uncertainty caused a revival in religion, suppressed in Soviet times, and hence a surge of new traditionalism.
The researchers also found that family values held by women in agricultural countries are linked to the family's financial situation. In wealthier families where women can afford not to contribute to family income, they tend to be more conservative about family norms. By contrast, working women from middle and low income families are generally more liberal in their attitudes. People with university degrees rarely hold conservative views on abortion, divorce, and premarital sex.
According to the study's author, examining family and sexual norms does not only add to our knowledge of society's current attitudes towards emancipation and gender equality, but also allows the prediction of future shifts in values and the assessment of the degree of modernisation in society.