Monday, January 9, 2012

Russia’s "Crisis in Gender"

Kate Bolick wrote an extremely interesting article for The Atlantic titled All the Single Ladies. She discusses the evolving set of options and considerations that women encounter in the rapidly changing social environment in which they now find themselves. Some of the material covered in her article has been discussed in Women, Men, Marriage, and Society

Bolick suggests that the lack of acceptable male mates for a well-educated and well-employed female could be a "crisis in gender."

"Every so often, society experiences a "crisis in gender" (as some academics have called it) that radically transforms the social landscape."

She compares the current generation of women with that in an earlier gender crisis after the Civil War.

"Take the years after the Civil War, when America reeled from the loss of close to 620,000 men, the majority of them from the South. An article published last year in The Journal of Southern History reported that in 1860, there were 104 marriageable white men for every 100 white women; in 1870, that number dropped to 87.5. A generation of Southern women found themselves facing a "marriage squeeze." They could no longer assume that they would become wives and mothers—a terrifying prospect in an era when women relied on marriage for social acceptability and financial resources."

Clearly, the options and expectations for white women in the South were forever changed.

Bolick then goes on to mention Russia in the context of a gender crisis that originated in the massive killing of World War II. Russia and its unusual demographics have been discussed previously—most recently in Russia and Its People: A Death Spiral? The effect on Russian society from the change in gender ratio could be much greater than that attributed to the deaths in the US Civil War.

The following charts are from the UN population database. They provide a summary of the breakout of male and female populations by age group and as a percentage of the total population. Data are presented for Russia, Germany, and Japan for the years 1950 and 2010. Keep in mind the World War II came only 25 years after the bloodshed of World War I. Some of the demographic fine structure will be a result of that conflict in the cases of Russia and Germany.

The data from 1950 should be a good representation of the post-war population. There are vertical dotted lines to indicate where there is a surplus of one gender over the other. Bolick quotes war casualties as being 20 million men and 7 million women. The gender differences that resulted in the young to middle aged adult categories are enormous. In some age groups there are almost twice as women as men—potentially a much larger effect than was observed in the US after the Civil War.


The demographic hole caused by the war is obvious, but the net effect, particularly the deficit of males, is smaller in Germany than in Russia.

Japan seems to have the least perturbation from the conflict and a relatively small male deficit.

With the worst fighting occurring as the German and Russian armies moved back and forth over the Russian landscape, it is not surprising that Russia suffered the worst. This enormous loss of life and the extreme deficit in males required some action on the part of the rulers. Bolick provides this account.

"....Russia....In order to replenish the population, the state instituted an aggressive pro-natalist policy to support single mothers. Mie Nakachi, a historian at Hokkaido University, in Japan, has outlined its components: mothers were given generous subsidies and often put up in special sanatoria during pregnancy and childbirth; the state day-care system expanded to cover most children from infancy; and penalties were brandished for anyone who perpetuated the stigma against conceiving out of wedlock."

These are commonsense actions that might exist in any society. However, Russia felt a need to go further.

"In 1944, a new Family Law was passed, which essentially freed men from responsibility for illegitimate children; in effect, the state took on the role of "husband." As a result of this policy—and of the general dearth of males—men moved at will from house to house, where they were expected to do nothing and were treated like kings; a generation of children were raised without reliable fathers, and women became the "responsible" gender. This family pattern was felt for decades after the war."

This latter move may have been necessary, but it is not an example of enlightened social engineering.

Bolick points out that there are local conditions that are causing extreme gender differentials in Russia even today.

"Indeed, Siberia today is suffering such an acute "man shortage" (due in part to massive rates of alcoholism) that both men and women have lobbied the Russian parliament to legalize polygamy....In endorsing polygamy, these women, particularly those in remote rural areas without running water, may be less concerned with loneliness than with something more pragmatic: help with the chores. Caroline Humphrey, a Cambridge University anthropologist who has studied the region, said women supporters believed the legalization of polygamy would be a ‘godsend,’ giving them ‘rights to a man’s financial and physical support, legitimacy for their children, and rights to state benefits’."

Requests to legalize polygamy in Russia?

One has to conclude that if one desires to create a bizarre and dysfunctional society, Russia provides the perfect example. One begins with two catastrophic wars, a few generations of Soviet rule, an existential financial crisis, and then, with Putin, another generation of Soviet rule.

The last 100 years have been tough on Russia. Let’s wish them the best.

1 comment:

  1. It is such an interesting thing having this post of yours. I was interested with the topic as well as the flow of the story. Keep up doing this. russian marriage


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