• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site

Fragmented Families: A Common But Temporary Phenomenon

Russia has some three million single mothers. However, the 'divorce epidemic' makes both being single and being married a temporary condition. One out of three single mothers will be raising her child in a two-parent family eventually, asserts Sergei Zakharov in a paper published in the HSE's electronic journal Demoscope Weekly

Single-Mother Statistics

The official single-mother status is largely a matter of self-identification or an arrangement between a woman and her partner. It does not always reflect a woman's actual marital status, says Sergei Zakharov, Deputy Director of the HSE's Institute of Demography, in his paper 'Single Motherhood'.

Theholder of a Form 25 Certificate, issued by the civil registry office to confirm single-parent status, may in fact be living happily with a partner who may well be the father of her child. Conversely, divorced women raising children in single-parent households are not officially considered single moms, according to the letter of the law.

Zakharov’s paper on single motherhood in Russia is based on Rosstat's (Russian Federal State Statistics Service) data from the 1989, 2002, and 2010 census, annual statistics of newborn babies registered with local Civil Registry Offices, and the findings of the study 'Parents and Children, Men and Women in Family and Society', which is part of the Generations and Gender Programme coordinated internationally by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Population Activities Unit and implemented in Russia by the Independent Institute for Social Policy.

Here are some of the findings:

  1. The number of single mothers did not exceed two million in Russia in 1989, but reached almost threemillion in 2010, increasing 1.5 times over 20 years.
  2. The proportion of single moms in the total number of mothers in Russia does not exceed 18%.
  3. Some 15% of all children under 18 in Russia are raised by single moms.
  4. Many single mothers join their extended family to form a complex household and benefit from family support, besides the opportunity to save money.
  5. Russian children are increasingly likely to grow up in a family with a stepfather.  

Legitimate Single Mothers vs. Single Mothers by Legal Definition

A crisis of the family, rising divorce rates, and depopulation – this is usually the context in which single motherhood is discussed. However, Zakharov notes, terminological confusion may come into play here. Legally speaking, a single mother is a woman who has a child out of wedlock, provided that the child's father has not been established and no joint statement by both parentsor a paternity judgment by a court is available at the time of the child's registration with a civil registry office. Divorced or widowed women with children are not recognized as single mothers.

At the same time, a woman raising her child in a common-law marriage with a partner who is not registered as the child's father but acts as a parent is entitled to handouts and benefits as long as she holds a Form 25 Certificate.

The paper makes the disappointing conclusion that the more entitlements are available for single moms, the more women seek this status.

A Mercantile Interest or a Fear of Being Found Out?

Either or both motives may be behind the parents' decision to apply for single-mother status.

According to 'Parents and Children, Men and Women in Family and Society', a woman usually knows who the father of her child is, and a man is aware of all his children, including those born out of wedlock. Therefore, the choice of single-mom status is often based on an arrangement between the partners, in addition to the woman's self-identification, notes Zakharov.

Thus, a man who has fathered a child out of wedlock may be afraid that his adultery could be found out and make an agreement with the woman that she not identify him as the child's father. Alternatively, applying for single-mother status may be explained by materialistic considerations, where the partners wish to access handouts and benefits. 

Zakharov cites an illustrative case from the Kaluga region. The local legislature endorsed a relatively generous monthly entitlement of fivethousand rubles per child for single moms, starting January 1, 2011. A year later, the regional government regretted the decision. "The law turned out to be anti-social," admitted Victor Baburin, head of the local Legislative Assembly. “Women come here, get registered, receive their benefits, and leave." The number of the region’s children born to single mothers increased by 40% in 2011. At the same time, no improvement was seen in local demographics, and the number of registered marriages dropped. The authorities eventually found a solution: they decided to pay 'new' single moms only 400 rubles per month.

Fatherless: A Social Norm?

No federal statistics on single motherhood areavailable, so the only way to estimate the number of single moms is to look at the annual registration of births by registry offices. Over the past 20-odd years, Russia has experienced a surge of 'fatherlessness'. The number of legally 'fatherless' children under 18 has increased from 2.6 million in 1989 to 3.9 million in 2012, and their share has grown from 6.5% to 14.5% of all children under 18 (graph 1).

Graph 1. Estimated annual number of children under 18 registered as having been born to single mothers, and their share in the total number of children under 18. Russia, 1989-2012

Source: Demographic Yearbook of Russia, 2010. Moscow: Rosstat, 2010. Unpublished data from Rosstat and S. Zakharov's estimates based on thisdata.

Single Mothers Can Have Multiple Births  Children

The average number of children born to female respondents of the PCMWFS study who reported having never been married or having never had a live-in partner was much higher than one, says Zakharov.

In other words, the 'single mom's only child' stereotype is somewhat outdated. Women who have never been married have an average of 1.3 children, and the average number of children born to women who have never had a live-in partner is even higher – at 1.6.

These figures are comparable to the total fertility rate in Russia, ie the average number of births per woman of reproductive age (15-49), which was 1.58 in 2011 according to Rosstat.

The Fragmentation of Families

The number of single mothers in Russia is growing: it was under twomillion in 1989, then reached 2.5 million in 2002, and finally the 2010 census reported up to three million mothers applying for the legal status of 'single moms'.

Their share in the total number of Russian mothers was 7.8% in 1989, 10%-12% in 2002, and 15%-18% in 2010.

It appears, however, that the single female phenomenon is much broader than the legal status of a single mom. An increasing number of women become single parents through divorce (or widowhood), and such women with children are not by a long shot rushing to remarry. Inevitably, so-called 'fragmented' families exist where children live with their mother only, at least temporarily (it is relatively rare for children in Russia to stay with their father after the parents' divorce).

By Zakharov's estimates, in 2010 Russia had some five million single women with children under 18. Single-parent households headed by women accounted for 24.1% of the total number of family units.

In 2010, 6.2 million children under 18 – a quarter (25.5%) of all children living in families – were raised in 'fragmented' families. Divorce is more common in cities and, consequently, more 'fragmented' families exist within them.

A broader perspective on demography can help us understand the single-mom dynamics.

Between 2002 and 2010, the picture of single motherhood in Russia changed in seemingly contradictory ways:

  1. The absolute number of single women with children under 18 dropped by 0.6 million or 11%, and their share in the total number of families with children decreased from 26.8% to 21.1%.
  2. At the same time, the share of single-parent families across all types of family units – with or without children, single-parent or two-parent – increased from 22.9% to 24.1%. Similarly, the percentage of children under 18 raised by unmarried women increased from 24% to 25.5%.

A broader look at Russia's demographics can explain this apparent inconsistency.

First, the age composition of Russia's population has changed, producing both an absolute and a relative reduction in the number of women under 20, the age group at high risk forhaving unfathered children. Second, the total number of families has decreased, while the number of childless couples among them is goingup. As a result, the share of families consisting of a single woman and her young children increased across all types of family units.

Single Mothers Are Better Off Living with Extended Family

Half of unmarried mothers with children in Russia live in complex households, and thus receive various types of support, the paper says.

An earlier trend towards a nuclear family consisting of spouses and their childrenstopped in the post-Soviet era; while young families previously preferred to live separately, today the trend has changed, and members of an extended family often come back together to form one household (see 'Economic Crises Bring Families Together'). This saves money and generally makes life easier.

The proportion of single women with children of all ages living in complex households was almost 41% in the 2002 census and reached 43% in the 2010 census.

No One Is Immune from Divorce, But Being Single May Be Temporary

In Russia, one out of three women who is married when she gives birth to her first child may at some point find herself raising her child without a husband, but one out of three single mothers will be raising children in a two-parent family eventually.

Marital transitions have been increasingly common in post-war generations, with a growing proportion of women raising children with different husbands – and increasing the odds of the child's socialization (if only temporarily) in a single-parent family.

The average period of time spentin a single-parent householdhas decreased for children born to single mothers, but it has increased for children born to married mothers.

Either way, the context of children’s socialization is becoming more diverse, and this requires the close attention of sociologists, psychologists and educators, concludes Zakharov.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, June 06, 2013