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At the end of twentieth century, 88 percent of the Latvian population lived in families. The make-up of families varied, as couples had children at different stages of life. Thus, families consisted of both parents with children under eighteen (32 % of the population); those with older, unmarried children (16%); young couples with no children (those who had left their parental homes in their twenties) and couples whose adult children had moved out (26%); and single-parent families with under-age children (8%). Fourteen percent of population lived in three-generation families, most in rural areas (30%). The proportion of single-parent families and one-person households (12%) corresponded to the high divorce rate and the disparities in gender in the older generations. More than half of those who live alone were older than sixty, and most of them were women (Eglite 2001).

Latvian families are small. The fertility surveys show that most couples want, on average, two children, although this varies slightly by age, sex, ethnicity, or education (1998). This would keep population numbers at steady replacement levels. The actual birth rate, however, does not correspond to the desired birth rate. After some increase between 1985 and 1989, the birth rate dropped in the 1990s—during the transition to a market economy—and in 1999 was two times lower than at the end of the 1980s. This drop happened mainly in civil marriages; the number of births in church marriages remained constant, while the number of extramarital births increased. The share of the latter in total births rose from some 12 percent in the 1980s to 39 percent in 1999 (Demographic Yearbook of Latvia 2000).

The principal reason the drop in birth rates is the low standard of living (Zarina 1995). During the 1990s, 47 percent of the households with one child and 74 percent with three or more children lived under the poverty line (approximately sixty U.S. dollars per member, per month) (Eglite 1999). To prevent a drop in population, the state supports childrearing. Employed mothers are entitled to four months' maternity allowance on full salary and a child's sickness benefit. For each child, if the care-giver does not have full-time employment, families receive a birth grant—a childcare allowance until the child is one and one-half years of age, and a monthly allowance proportional to order of birth up to fifteen years of age. Children also have free and mandatory education until grade nine, and secondary education if they choose (it is not mandatory). The total of these payments, however, does not compensate for the mothers' lost salary.

In contemporary Latvia, attitudes towards gender roles in the family are fluid. Stereotypes of husband as earner and wife as housekeeper are more popular among men than women (Rungule 1997). Younger generations and more educated groups tend to share responsibilities. At the end of the twentieth century 52 percent of men and women in their thirties recognized that there is no distinct leader in their family while 40 percent of men and 31 percent of women thought that the family was headed by the husband (Koroleva 1999).

In reality even employed women still spend almost twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic tasks and more than two times on childcare (Time Use 1998). The quality of family life could be improved by increasing fathers' participation and creating better possibilities to reconcile mothers' employment with childcare.


Demographic Yearbook of Latvia (since 1990 yearly). Riga: Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.

Eglite, P. (2001). "Household Composition." In Living Conditions in Latvia: Norbalt—2, ed. E. Vaskis. Riga: Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.

Eglite, P., Pavlina, I.; and I. M. Markausa. (1999). Situation of Family in Latvia. Riga: Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Science.

Fertility and Family Survey in Countries of the ECE Regions, Standard Country Report, Latvia. (1998). New York and Geneva: United Nations.

Koroleva, I. (1999). "The Views of Young People on the Role of the Man and the Woman in the Family." In Man's Role in the Family, ed. I. B. Zarina. Riga: Latvian Women's Studies and Information Center.

Rungule, R. (1997). "The Role of Parents—Fathers and Mothers—in the Family and in Society." In Invitation to Dialogue: Beyond Gender (In)equality, ed. I. Koroleva. Riga: Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Latvian Academy of Sciences.

Time Use by the Population of Latvia. Statistical Bulletin. (1998). Riga: Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Sciences.

Zarina, I. B. (1995). "Actual and Desired Family Models in Latvia." Humanities and Social Sciences. Latvia. 2(7):48–61.

Zvidrins, P., and Ezera, L. (1999). "Dynamics and Differentiation of Cohabitation in Latvia." Revue Baltique 13:71–81.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsLatvia - Legislation Affecting Families, Partner Relationships, Family