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Traditions of Helping inside Families are Changing in Russia

Relationships within Russian families are being transformed. While most people in the country still think that mutual support between the different generations within a family are necessary, these traditions of ‘family service’ are receding into the past. Russia is becoming more oriented to Western cultural values, including the priority of individual interests, reported Cecile Lefevre, Irina Korchagina and Lidya Prokofieva at the HSE XV April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development

Old behavioural norms are being transformed in Russia: the ties between parents and children are weakening, said Cecile Lefevre, researcher from the French Centre Population et Developpement, and Irina Korchagina and Lidia Prokofieva, senior research fellows from the HSE Center for Studies of Income and Living Standards, in their paper Recent changes of family policy and the families opinion on it in Russia and France. These new, less close relationships within a family are largely related to the fact that Western values with their priority of individual interests over collective ones are starting to take root in Russia: mutual support ends where personal freedom starts. In this sense Russia is becoming somehow closer to France, where a more liberal understanding of family support is common. More and more Russians are wondering if children should support parents and if the senior members of a family should help the younger.

The study in Russia was based on the results of three waves of survey ‘Parents and children, men and women in the family and the society’ (2004, 2007, and 2011), which was part of the international project Generation and Gender. In France this project was carried out at approximately the same time and was entitled ‘Study of interfamily and intergeneration relations’. The sampling both in Russia and France was 11,000 families.

Care is family concern, support is the state’s one

An active family policy in France evolved a long time ago, and in Russia these traditions are only returning now. Nevertheless, the mass consciousness in both countries includes similar concepts of relationships between youth and the elderly. Both Russia and France are family-oriented countries, where mutual support between children and parents is considered normal. But Russia and France are not unanimous in understanding this mutual support.

Respondents in both countries believe that care of children and the elderly is a family prerogative. But responsibility for material help to these groups of the population is, on the contrary, more often given to society. But while care of children is more often considered to be a family’s responsibility, people from both countries are more eager to share care of old people with the state. Half of the respondents in both countries believe that material support for old people issociety’s responsibility, and another 29% of French and 36.7% of Russians share this responsibility equally between family and society, the authors say.

A special topic is care for the elderly at home. On one hand, respondents from both countries believe that the family should definitely be responsible for old people (45.2% in France and 47.8% in Russian), or family and society equally (41.7% in France and 42.7% in Russia). On the other hand, the system of state care for old people in France is organized in such a way that young people consider it possible to focus on their career and let social services care for the elderly. Over the last decades, a network of old people’s homes has developed in France, offering good conditions for living and treatment.

The elderly care for their grandchildren

In terms of support that could be given by the senior members of a family to the junior, Russians and French also have similar views. Care of children, such as helping with grandchildren and material support, should be part of older generation’s life, 65% respondents in Russia and 78% respondents in France believe (fig. 1, summarized results from two responses: ‘totally agree’ and ‘agree’).

Figure 1. Should parents and older relatives help their grown-up children? (% of answers by respondents from Russia and France), 2011.


Russians showed more conservatism in answering the question ‘Should parents change their lives in order to help their grown-up children?’, Lefevre, Korchagina, and Prokofieva say. 70% Russians and slightly less than 40% of the French respondents agree with it (fig.1).

Respondents from both countries agree on the importance of mutual support in families. But, according to the French, it shouldn’t interfere with personal freedom. Over the last decades in Russian society as well we have seen ‘people’s views transform towards a growing orientation to individual well-being, often at the expense of interfamily support’, the researchers emphasize.

Young people should care about the elderly

Opinions of respondents from the two countries in terms of children’s care of parents vary: in Russia people more often say that it’s necessary. A vast majority of respondents in Russia (95%) agree that children should be responsible for elderly parents (fig. 2, summarized responses ‘agree’ and ‘totally agree’). In France there are only 65% of such answers.

Figure 2. Should grown-up children help their elderly parents? (% of answers in Russia and France), 2011.


The researchers notice that a clear example of differences in the mentalities of people from the two countries is how they agree or disagree with ‘Children should live with their parents if they are no longer able to live alone’. Only 37% respondents in France agree with this statement, and almost twice this figure in Russia, 64.2% (fig. 2).

The state should help in caring for old people

Analysis of the opinions on the ‘family issue’ in dynamics over 2004-2011 showed that they remained relatively stable among French while they have undergone serious shifts among Russians in terms of their views on distribution of responsibility between family and society in support of children and old people. Social expectations among the less protected demographics in Russia have grown.

The stability in the French opinion can be largely explained by the stable work of social services. In Russia ‘the problems of survival in the constantly changing world and lack of a developed network of care for children and old people force people to seek support from the state’, the authors emphasize. This leads to a growing number of statements about mutual responsibility of state and family for the weaker members of society. For example, over the last seven years the share of respondents who believe that both family and state should take responsibility for the elderly has grown in Russia from almost 35% to 47.8% (fig. 3). This change can be explained by changes in opinions of those respondents who previously strongly voted for only family responsibility, the authors explain.

Figure 3. Evolution of opinions on social support of less protected demographics (% of answers in Russia)


More Russians now believe that the elderly in need to be supported jointly by family and the state (the share has grown from 28% to 37%, fig. 3). At the same time the share of respondents who believe that society is the only responsible party has fallen. This can be explained by a decreasing dependency on the state and a growing acknowledgment by families that it’s important to take an active position, the experts comment.

Children and parents are less ready to help each other

A growing orientation towards sharing the care of weaker members of the society with the state correlates with growing doubts about the necessity of help within families in Russia (fig. 4). The share of those questioning this grew by 8.5%, and the share of respondents who agree that ‘children should take responsibility for caring about the elderly parents when they need help’ fell. The share of people who agree that ‘children should support their parents financially’ fell by 9%, and that ‘children should live with their elderly parents when they are no longer able to care about themselves’ – by 8%.

Figure 4. Evolution of opinions on interfamily support (% of answers in Russia).


The share of respondents who believe that the older generation should help the younger has also decreased. While in 2004 the number of people who totally agreed that grandparents should care about their grandchildren was about 20%, in 2011 it fell to 15% (fig. 4).

This means that in Russia, mutual help within families is no longer as obligatory as it used to be. But while the old family values are receding into the past, new views on how the roles are distributed between family and society have not yet evolved in Russia.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, April 22, 2014