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Different traditions influence attitudinal change in Switzerland. Liberalism favored the spread of a concept of privacy in which the family was seen as largely autonomous and able to provide for itself. Liberalism (predominant in the traditionally Protestant cantons and cities) is positively associated with the acceptance of divorce, abortion, and the spread of new living arrangements. A more conservative ideology dominates in central Switzerland and some of the French-speaking cantons. It is linked with Catholicism and anti-etatism (opposition to state intervention). Conservatives view the family as a fundamental institution and children as essential elements. From this point of view, the value of children is high, and divorce and abortion are less accepted. Social democratic and feminist ideologies are more common in the urban and economic centers and are often linked with post-materialist orientations (i.e., having interests in things other than consumption—for example, personal autonomy, self-fulfilment, environmental quality, community, conviviality, etc.); thus family and children are not major issues. It seems that leftist ideas are associated with a higher propensity to accept abortion and new living arrangements.

The first representative polls on family attitudes were conducted around 1990 (Melich et al. 1991; Fux et al. 1997; Dorbritz and Fux 1997; Fux and Pfeiffer 1999; Gabadinho and Wanner 1999; Fux and Baumgartner 1998). In 1992, a huge majority of the Swiss population aged eighteen and older was not in favor of the increase in divorce (84 percent) (Fux et al. 1997; Dorbritz and Fux 1997; Fux and Pfeiffer 1999). "The partner does not love me any longer" (73%), disharmony between spouses (59%), and infidelity (56%), however, are widely accepted grounds for divorce (Gabadinho and Wanner 1999; Fux and Baumgartner 1998). Ninety-one percent of the Swiss population considered the well-being of the mother and 61 percent the risk of bearing a handicapped child as legitimate reasons for abortion. About one out of four respondents mentioned that abortion is justified if the woman (26%) or the couple (24%) does not want a child, or if the mother is unmarried (15%). According to this source, 47 percent of respondents had no objections to single women wanting to raise their own children alone. One in three respondents (31%) mentioned that parents should always "sacrifice for the sake of their children." In contrast, 75 percent of all respondents agreed with the statement "parents must always be loved and respected by their children," rather than the alternative, "one cannot demand that children are always obedient to their parents."

Beat Fux's research allows international comparisons because similar surveys were conducted also in eight other European countries (Fux et al. 1997). Many Swiss people accept recent demographic trends (decrease in marriages and births, increase in divorce) and the spread of new living arrangements (unmarried cohabitation, childlessness, single parenthood, singlehood, and out-of-wedlock births). The degree of tolerance towards these trends (Switzerland, mean: 7.2) is lower than in the Netherlands (mean: 9.5), but significantly higher than in the former Czechoslovakia (mean: 5.3), Austria (mean: 6.5), and Italy (mean: 6.6). Within Switzerland, French-speaking and Italian-speaking people accept these trends to a lesser degree than do German-speaking people. However, intranational variation is smaller than international variation in this respect.

A similar pattern can be found regarding the belief in the value of children. Along with the Netherlands, Switzerland belongs to the countries that place a comparatively low value on children, while respondents in former socialist countries, in the south of Europe, and in Germany, give significantly higher value to children. Again, a marked variation is observed within Switzerland. In the French- and Italian-speaking parts of the country, children seem to be more valued than in the German-speaking regions. By contrast, attitudes and value orientations related to the family show only a small variation, both among countries and within Switzerland. In all of the countries under observation, the family remains an important institution.

Switzerland is characterized by a comparatively high tolerance towards various family-related trends, though such openness to new family forms does not preclude a high appreciation for the family institution. The internal divisions within Swiss society markedly influence individual attitudes. In the French-speaking regions and urban centers, and among those with no religious affiliation, acceptance of divorce and abortion is higher than in the German- and Italian-speaking areas. Regarding the spread of new living arrangements, the German-speaking areas seem to be more tolerant, while intergenerational relations and children are more valued in the Latin areas than in the German regions. Catholics and Protestants, however, show only minor differences. In an international perspective, Switzerland is more similar to the Netherlands than to Austria, Germany, or Italy.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsSwitzerland - Households And Families, Attitudes, Conclusion