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Traditional and Post-materialist Values About Family and marriage in Greece

Published onMay 09, 2022
Traditional and Post-materialist Values About Family and marriage in Greece


The present chapter focuses on defining the importance in life of family and of specific qualities for a successful marriage/partnership as related to the traditional value of women being fulfilled in their role as spouses and mothers, and also the post-materialist value of marriage being an outdated institution. These values were examined using data from the 2008 and 2019 waves of the European Values Study for Greece. The findings provide overwhelming support for the importance of family in one’s life as well as the importance of faithfulness for a successful marriage or partnership. Adequate income and children were assessed as important for a successful marriage/partnership by fewer traditional participants in general and by even fewer non-traditional participants and post-materialists in 2019 as compared to those in 2008.

30.1 Introduction

During the EVS 3rd wave (1999), family form, structure and values in European countries have been the core of long discussions among Loek Halman, Jim Georgas, and a team of PhD students including the authors of this chapter, in the frame of a broader collaboration between Tilburg University and the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. This chapter, in honour of Loek Hallman, has been founded on these fruitful interactions that encouraged the Greek EVS team to proceed with European family values and attitudes research until the EVS 5th wave (2017).

The family as the primary context for human development is responsible for the satisfaction of the biological, social and psychological needs of its members, thereby ensuring their survival. Regardless of its specific structure, which is formulated somewhat differently across cultures or over time, the family constitutes the main psychological group which the individual can count on. The family is also the basic connecting factor between the individual and the social environment. It may be nuclear or extended or single-parent or dual-career or reconstituted, and it may exist within the framework of the institution of marriage or not. It has been reported that a household may consist of more than one family nuclei, since according to the United Nations/European Commission for Europe (UN/ECE, 2015 as mentioned in Hantrais, Brannen, et al., 2020, p. 277), the nuclear family comprises a cohabitating couple “related as a marital, a registered, or a consensual union of partners of either opposite or same sex, or as parent and child.” Consequently, the family has undergone significant compositional and functional changes over time, which has resulted in quite different forms of living arrangements resembling what people consider ‘home’ (Georgas, Mylonas, et al., 2004).

Demographic changes such as declining marriage and fertility rates, rising divorce, and childless couples rates are a given. These changes also seem to be associated with values about the institution of marriage and children shifting away from traditional and materialist values towards more liberal and post-materialist ones (Gubernskaya, 2010; Yucel, 2015). According to post-materialism theory, individuals have increased their financial security, thereby their economic dependency on normative constraints has waned (Inglehart & Baker, 2000). Materialist and traditional values that presented the family and society as factors for the individuals’ progress have given way to post-materialist and secular-rational values. Individuals may pursue their self-actualization freed from premises that required obedience to the traditional meaning of gender roles and marriage (Inglehart & Baker, 2000). They also appreciate higher-order life goals more than economic security goals (Inglehart, 2008) and tend to set immaterial life-goals such as personal development and self-esteem above material security” (Uhlaner and Thurik, 2007, p.162). In cultural contexts where living conditions are in turmoil, value change will point to conservatism and traditionalism (Welzel & Inglehart, 2010). Post-materialist individuals view family, marriage and gender roles from a new perspective seeking in the context of family autonomy, psychological interdependence (Goodwin, 2009), and narcissistic love between spouses, which enhances trust to the self but restricts marital fertility (Beck-Gersheim, 2002).

In support of the liberalization of values comes the theory of the ‘Second Demographic Transition’, which relates the demographic changes with the more individualistic and egalitarian values. Self-actualization may be achieved through education and career before marriage and family, which may follow in a reformed version or not at all. However, this is inconsistent with the conservative value towards the stability of the institution of marriage and corresponding distinct gender social roles (Van de Kaa, 2000).

Greece seems to be lagging behind with regard to these social transformations. Greece is exiting an economic crisis the management of which has straddled the European and national levels as no other episode in the history of the Eurozone (Featherstone & Papadimitriou, 2017). The unemployment rates skyrocketed, and the massive national spending cuts on all public services were keenly felt by all Greek citizens. University students, who have made serious cutbacks to their everyday expenses, do not expect to find a good job even remotely related to their studies, which have also undergone radical reform. There is no optimism for future economic independence. Age was found to be positively related to the degree these consequences were experienced (Λουμάκου & Κανελλοπούλου, 2020).

Moreover, previous research on family has shown that an urban type of extended family has been configurated (Georgas, Christakopoulou, et al., 1997). This type of family administers those values related to the function of the traditional extended family and the maintenance of tight kin relationships, but without the traditional parental hierarchical roles. In contrast to families in Western industrialized countries where rising educational and economic levels of the wife’s social role is associated with her power in making family decisions (Biddlecom & Kramarow, 1998), within the ordinary conventional Greek family, the mother would gradually increase her status and her participation in family decision-making after acquiring children. It is also suggested that the father’s power within the family has lessened and the mother’s has increased although the two-spouse family roles seemed to remain traditional until the end of 20th century (Maratou-Aliprante, 1997).

The aim of this chapter is to identify: a) whether family for Greeks still stands as a major milestone in their life; b) whether and to what extent specific qualities that might define a successful marriage or partnership are supported by traditional participants who perceive women to be spouses and mothers; and c) whether and to what extent the same qualities that might define a successful marriage or partnership are endorsed by post-materialist participants who consider marriage as an outdated institution.


30.2 Data and Variables

The 2008 European Values Study consists of a representative stratified random sample of the Greek adult population of 18 years old and over comprising 1500 respondents surveyed via door-to-door interviews using the standardized 2008 EVS questionnaire; of the realized sample, 43.4% were men and 56.7% were women. The 2019 sample comprised 2694 respondents, of which 40.4% were men and 54.1% were women (5.5% were missing values); it was a web survey using the 2017 EVS Computer-Assisted Web Interviewing questionnaire. Data were obtained using the snowball technique, which resulted in 3894 cases. The 2019 sample for this study was adjusted to the 2008 percentages of sex and age in accordance with the rates development of these variables as depicted in the Hellenic Statistical Authority Reports (2011).

For this study, specific questions were selected to be identical in the 2008 and 2019 EVS questionnaires: a) “Please indicate how important family is in your life” rated on a four-point scale from “Very important” to “Not important at all”; b) “How much do you agree or disagree with the statement: A job is alright but what most women really want is a home and children” rated on a four-point scale from “Agree strongly” to “Disagree strongly”; c) “ Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Marriage is an outdated institution” rated on a binary scale “Agree” or “Disagree”; and d) “For a successful marriage or partnership, please indicate how important is: “faithfulness”, “adequate income”, “good housing”, “sharing household chores”, “children” and “spending time with friends and for personal hobbies/activities”, all rated on a threepoint scale: “Very Important”, “Rather Important”, “Not Important at All”.

The importance of family in life and the qualities considered important for a successful marriage/partnership were operationalized by (a) the question “what women really want is a home and children” which is considered to be a traditional value, (b) the question “marriage is an outdated institution” which is considered to be a post-materialist value and (c) the variable of age. In addition, ages were divided into six age groups namely 18-24 years of age, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64 and over 65.

Exploratory factor analyses applied for each wave separately on the indicators mentioned above on successful marriage qualities, did not result in a clear unifactorial solution; this indicates that more than one specific dimension exists. Therefore, crosstabulation analyses were carried out, for each year separately, on the importance of family, the values for a successful marriage associated with positive/negative view towards the traditional statement that “what women really want is home and children”, and the post-materialist view that “marriage is an outdated institution”.


30.3 Results

Importance of family. Crosstabulation analyses, for each wave separately, on the importance of family in life and respondents’ gender, age group, the attitude towards the traditional women’s role and the institution of marriage, shows that family was very important in life regardless of the respondents’ gender, age, respondent’s opinion on whether marriage is outdated, or whether women are fulfilled when married with children; for both the 2008 and 2019 waves, percentages ranged between 73% and 92%.

In particular, crosstabulation analysis resulted in extremely high percentages although statistically significant for both supporters of the institution of marriage (2008: 88.7% p <.000 and 2019: 89.4% p <.000), and also by the post-materialists who were less supportive (77.4% and 74%). The same pattern held true for respondents embracing the traditional view of women being fulfilled when married with children (2008: 88.7% and 2019: 89.4%), as well as those with lower acceptance of this traditional role (78.8% and 81.2%). As for age groups, the older the respondents the higher the percentage (91.5%), who evaluated family as being very important in life; the importance of family gradually decreases with age, with 73.2% of the youngest finding family very important. While in 2008, an almost equal number of men (86.4%) and women (86.1%) considered family to be very important in life, while in 2019 there seems to be a statistically significant higher percentage of women (89.3%) compared to men (80.4%) who find family important.

Successful marriage qualities. For a successful marriage or partnership, faithfulness was rated as a very important marital quality with overwhelming support regardless of any differences between those supporting the traditional role of women or not (see Figure 30.1). Specifically, faithfulness was rated as very important by the 92.1% (p <.05) of the traditionals with regard to the role of women in 2008 than the non-traditionals; however, this statistically significant difference was not identified in 2019. Children was rated as a very important quality for a successful marriage/partnership by 91% of the traditional participants who embrace the traditional social role of women, compared to 78.8% of the non-traditionals in 2008; in 2019 the range of difference was greater while the percentages evaluating children as very important were much lower (79.5% and 32%, respectively). Adequate income was assessed as very important by less traditional participants regarding the role of women in 2008 (71.2% p<.001), than those who accepted this traditional role (75.8%); the reverse was found for 2019 with much lower percentages (the less traditional participants 67.1% but the traditionals 37.3% p <.000, respectively).


Figure 30.1 Percentages of traditional and non-traditional participants - supporters and non-supporters - of the traditional social role of women, in 2008 and 2019, for the qualities of a successful marriage

Note. Traditionals: in favor of the female social role that focuses on home and children Non-traditionals: against this female social role.

The findings regarding the importance of the above-mentioned qualities for a successful marriage/partnership did not change much irrespective of whether respondents were supporters of the institution of marriage or not (see Figure 30.2). Specifically, the materialist, conservative supporters of marriage overwhelmingly assessed faithfulness as extremely important, both in 2008 (89.9%) and 2019 (90.6%), although being more supportive of faithfulness when compared to the high percentages of the post-materialist opposers (82% and 75.3%, respectively for each year). Children was rated as a very important quality for a successful marriage/partnership by 81% of the conservative supporters of marriage, compared to 73.3% of the post-materialist opposers for 2008, while the range of difference was greater and the percentages a great deal lower in 2019 (56.9% and 31.9% respectively). As for adequate income, conservative participants with regard to marriage in 2008 and 2019 rated adequate income as important (63.3% and 44.5% respectively) being significantly more supportive of this marriage quality than the post-materialists (67.8% in 2008, but 38.1% in 2019).

Figure 30.2 Percentages of participants supporting and not supporting the institution of marriage, in 2008 and 2019, for the qualities for a successful marriage

30.4 Discussion

The family proves to be very important for the overwhelming majority of participants, regardless of gender, age, stronger or weaker supporters of the female traditional social role that “home and children is really what women want”, as well as those participants who accept at higher or lower levels the importance of the institution of marriage; in particular, those who hold more traditional views on women’s social role, those who hold conservatives views on the acceptance of the institution of marriage, and elders and women recognized the great importance of family. This finding is in line with the one reported by Halman, Sieben et al. (2012) that family is considered to be “very” and “quite important” by 98% of Europeans.

Faithfulness as an important quality for successful marriage/partnership was overwhelmingly supported by all groups of participants - the traditionals and non-traditionals with regard to the women’s social role as well as those accepting or rejecting the institution of marriage - conservatives and meta-materialists. This finding is consistent with the overwhelming acceptance of faithfulness for a successful marriage (about 85%) of Europeans (Halman, Sieben, et al., 2012).

Traditional participants in favor of the traditional social role of women as actualizing themselves only by being spouses and mothers seem to value the rest of the qualities for a successful marriage or partnership –adequate income, good housing, sharing household chores, children and time for friend/hobbies - in a similar way, both in 2008 and 2019, but with lower percentages, in comparison with the non traditionals; additionally, in 2019, the non-traditionals seemed to value less the qualities of children and adequate income. Also, the more conservative participants who accept the importance of marriage seemed to assess the qualities for a successful marriage or partnership in a similar way to the post-materialists, except for the qualities of adequate income and children that are seen as important for a successful marriage/partnership in 2019 by those with lower acceptance of marriage importance. These findings seem to agree with Jones and Brayfield (1997) regarding children as a quality for marriage, in which individuals with more egalitarian gender ideology are found to be less likely to consider children as central to fulfilment and therefore have more egalitarian family values (Yucel, 2015). The underestimation of adequate income has also been ranked last in the Olson, Olson-Sigg et al. (2011) survey where financial management and spiritual beliefs were the least supported qualities in marriage.

Overall, it is not clear whether there is a shift towards post-materialist values regarding the qualities for a successful marriage/partnership. Apart from the absolute acceptance of faithfulness, findings about the qualities considered compatible with the traditional content of marriage/partnership, namely adequate income and children, seemed to find lower support by all groups of participants. Specifically, adequate income and children appeared to undergo some substantial re-evaluation by participants who do not agree with traditional values. It seems that, after ten years of economic crisis in Greece, participants do not turn to well-known, safe and conservative attitudes towards marriage/partnership. It has been indicated that regarding personal values in recession-hit Greece a decline was found in conservative values like tradition, conformity and security as well (Παυλόπουλος, 2014). The attribution of crisis to the old political system or the cognitive dissonance between low future expectations and high need of security, due to the lower and lower standard of living, has not seemed to lead Greeks towards the safety of traditionalism as might be expected in times of crisis (Welzel & Inglehart, 2010). Whether this tendency towards re-evaluation is a random fluctuation or is here to stay, and perhaps constitutes the beginning of a greater devaluation of traditional values for the institution of marriage, has yet to be established using future data on the matter; the research results of this study are not sufficient to establish a clear picture, as more elaborated statistical work needs to be done associated also with the analysis of additional EVS demographic variables.

A few years ago traditional values about family function and marriage goal were prevalent in Greece. As Yucel (2015) very carefully points out, Greece may have not undergone a second demographic transition, since it lags behind in the formation of ideological changes.


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