INSTITUTIONS AND ORGANS OF SOCIETY
The traditional German family was patriarchally organized.
The father was the head of the household and the ultimate
authority on all family matters. The mother centered her life
around the three Ks--Kirche, Kinder, und
Küche (church, children, and kitchen). Children were
expected to submit to the will of their parents and ideally to
reflect the qualities of obedience, responsibility, and respect.
The typical family unit was the nuclear household, but ties with
the extended family were maintained, and a close relationship
existed with relatives. War, industrialization, and urbanization
had important implications for family organization and patterns
of relationships. In the postwar period, the communist regime has
treated the family as the smallest collective unit of society and
emphasized its role in the political socialization and education
The family is protected and its relationship outlined in the
Family Code of 1965 and in the Constitution. The Family Code is
considered a fairly progressive document. It delineates the
relationships between husband and wife and between parents and
children, recognizes the equality and mutual respect of the
sexes, and stipulates the joint responsibility of the parents
with regard to the education of their children. The Constitution
places "marriage, family, and motherhood . . . under the special
protection of the state."
Women are given complete equality with their husbands under
the law. Either the wife's or the husband's name may be chosen as
the family name. Husbands are expected to support and encourage
their wives in pursuing an education and/or employment
opportunities. Both spouses jointly own property earned after the
marriage, although each retains the rights to any possessions
acquired before marriage.
The legal age of marriage is eighteen for both men and women.
Marriage ages have declined over the years, and by the early
1980s the average marriage age for both partners was in the midtwenties . Marriage must be performed by an authorized official of
the state and be properly registered. In the mid-1980s, divorce
rates were relatively high; divorce occurred primarily in
marriages that were in their second to seventh years. Women
initiated an increasing number of divorce suits. Common causes of
divorce were infidelity, incompatibility, and drinking. A divorce
was not difficult to obtain if neither spouse objected. The
couple simply filed an application and paid a fee determined on
the basis of the couple's income. In 90 percent of divorces, the
mother retained custody of any children involved in the suit.
Most young couples have preferred a small family of one or
two children. A liberal abortion law, promulgated in 1972 amid
protest from religious circles, permits abortion upon the request
of the mother. Before the enactment of the law, over 100,000
illegal abortions were estimated to have been performed annually.
As of the mid-1980s, information on contraceptive methods was
available to the public, and women could obtain birth control
pills at no cost.
At the same time, motherhood is encouraged and accorded an
honored role in society. The state is concerned about declining
birthrates and has implemented a program of benefits and services
designed to make motherhood more attractive
(see Population Structure and Dynamics
, this ch.). An elaborate network of daycare centers provides care for the child while the mother is at
work. In 1984 there were 6,605 year-round day nurseries with room
for 296,653 children. These nurseries provided care for 63
percent of eligible children.
The working woman/mother is highly regarded by society. Work
is considered a social responsibility as well as a right. A
woman's right to work is, in the first instance, an ideological
commitment on the part of the state and the communist rulers, but
it is also a necessity given the shortage of manpower. Yet for
all the relative equality in the workplace, in the mid-1980s the
majority of household chores still fell to women. Surveys have
indicated that women assumed most of the burden for cooking,
cleaning, washing, and shopping and that they performed these
tasks in addition to their regular employment outside the home.
One of the major social responsibilities of parents is the
education of their children. The Constitution notes that "it is
the right and the noblest duty of parents to raise their children
to become healthy, joyous, competent, universally educated, and
state-conscious citizens." Parents teach their children by
providing role models and by actively participating in their
formal education. In the mid-1980s, parents' councils operated
within the schools to review and discuss curriculum, instruction,
and educational standards. Official propaganda continually
emphasized the need for conformity in values between the home and
collective institutions in society. Parents were admonished not
to confuse the child by allowing conflicting standards of
behavior within the family.
The family continues to influence strongly the life of the
average citizen. Despite the social, economic, and political
changes that have occurred, family ties remain solid and close;
some observers suggest that ties within the extended family are
even stronger in East Germany than in West Germany. Observers
also have noted a tendency for East Germans to turn inward toward
the family as one of the few areas of "private" life left open to
Data as of July 1987