Volume 32 - Article 11 | Pages 341–368  

Trust, responsibility, and freedom: Focus-group research on contemporary patterns of union formation in Russia

By Olga Isupova

This article is part of the Special Collection 17 "Focus on Partnerships: Discourses on cohabitation and marriage throughout Europe and Australia"


Background: While some studies directly address the issue of changes in union formation in Russia and Eastern Europe, few have focused on attitudes and norms regarding marriage and cohabitation. In Russia cohabitation has risen sharply in the last decades, but recently its level has stabilized and even decreased slightly.

Objective: We intend to highlight gender and educational differences in perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of cohabitation vs. marriage.

Methods: We conducted 8 focus groups in Moscow in January 2012 (4 with men, 4 with women, half with higher educated participants and half with lower educated participants).

Results: Participants claimed that trust between men and women underlies preferences for marriage or cohabitation. Participants‟ religious beliefs form a 'three stages of union' theory: cohabitation in the beginning, civil marriage later when trust has developed, and finally a church wedding when trust is established. In union formation the participants‟ ideals are the values of responsibility, freedom, fidelity, and trust. The level of trust is highest for proponents of marriage and ideational cohabitors. People without a strong preference for a certain type of union have the lowest level of interpersonal trust.

Conclusions: In a society that currently can be considered anomic, interpersonal trust was found to be the most important factor underlying expressed ideals in choice of union type. It takes different forms for adherents of marriage ("trust with closed eyes") and adherents of cohabitation ("trust with open eyes").

Author's Affiliation

  • Olga Isupova - National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE), Russian Federation EMAIL

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Towards a new understanding of cohabitation: Insights from focus group research across Europe and Australia
Volume 31 - Article 34

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