Family (familija) has great importance to Bosnians. Traditionally, Bosnians lived in agricultural communities called ‘zadruga’. These could consist of two or three nuclear families, or reach over a hundred families in size. Zadruga no longer exist in their traditional form; however, extended families (zajednica) and neighbours (komšija) are still extremely important in Bosnia (see ‘Community and Neighbours’ in Core Concepts). This is especially true in rural areas. For example, grandparents may live with the and have a considerable amount of involvement in raising children.
While nuclear households are common in towns and cities, the average size of the Bosnian house is still quite big. This is because it remains desirable to have three or more children in the . It is widely thought that the more children a couple has, the happier and more prosperous they are. Parents often support their children well into adulthood until they move out at marriage. In return, Bosnians are expected to care for their elderly. Residential care is uncommon. Elders are highly respected for their wisdom and experience. It’s expected that their opinions prevail over others’ in family matters. If households are three-generational, the grandparents will have the most authority.
The Bosnian War has impacted the family life of many people as they lost family members in the war. The conflict resulted in the death of many Bosnian men; thus, there has been an increase in households headed by widows.
Bosnian families are traditionally and lineage is carried through the male side of the family; however, it is becoming more common for husbands and wives to share the decision-making power in contemporary society. It is normal for a man to be the formal head of household, representing the family in public whilst the woman has the most authority at home.
Men are generally the main income earners whilst women are more commonly found in the domestic sphere. Since unemployment is a primary concern in Bosnia, the employment of any member of the household is seen positively. As such, many women may run family businesses from their home whilst their husband works elsewhere. For those Bosnians that live in villages, it is common for the man to work outside of the village and rely on their wives to keep them updated with the latest news of the community.
Bosnian culture has strong conceptions of femininity and . Women are expected to be well-groomed, reserved and have a feminine look. For example, it could be considered unladylike for women to exercise at a gym. Meanwhile, men are expected to be active and resourceful. Many pride themselves on being ‘handymen’, able to fix anything. Men are also expected to present themselves tidily; however, it is more acceptable for them to be slightly unkempt.
In a general sense, there is more segregation between the genders among Bosnian Muslims than Bosnian Christians. Muslims tend to socialise with the same gender unless accompanied by their partner to visit another couple. Muslim women also tend to dress more conservatively. They often wear long skirts and a or a headscarf tied under the chin.
Marriage and Dating
The social changes following the war and an era of socialism have seen the traditional surrounding marriage, sex and sexuality loosen in Bosnia. Despite religious prohibitions from both the Muslim and Christian denominations, Bosnians are getting married later in life, engaging in prenuptial sex more commonly and using birth control more. The mean age for one’s first marriage in Bosnia is 26.4 for women and 29.6 for men.1 Interethnic/inter-religious marriages are also common in urban areas.
Some professionals may choose not to get married or have children; however, women may still be judged for their fertility and marital status – particularly in smaller towns or villages. The unwed woman is called ‘usidjelica’ (spinster), and the one without children ‘inoča’ and ‘bezditka’ (barren woman). A mistress is called ‘priležnica’.
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