The family plays a prominent role in Chilean society as well as in the day-to-day life of most Chileans. The is the core family unit in Chile. However, bonds are often quite close to extended family members. One's family tends to have a major influence on the individual and often acts as a reference point throughout their life. There is an expectation placed on the individual to be loyal and committed to their family by putting the interests of the family above their own.
Close-knit family relations provide Chileans with a network of security and support, particularly in times of need. This is especially relevant to the lower classes; the extended family acts as an indispensable source of support for coping with hardships during difficult times. Extended families will frequently visit each other and celebrate major occasions such as a wedding or birthday. Relatives will also visit each other regularly if they live in close proximity to one another. At times, the family unit may transcend bloodlines to include close family friends. For example, children will often be taught to refer to their parents' friends as ‘uncle' or ‘aunt'.
While couples are expected to establish their own households, they usually make efforts to remain in close contact with members of their extended family. Young people tend to stay at home until they get married or are required to move to another town for employment reasons. Yet parental authority remains even after children have an independent life. Indeed, children are generally expected to consult their parents on important life choices such as their education and marriage. Grandparents also have considerable authority in family affairs. Either by necessity or by choice, grandparents (especially those who are widows) tend to live with the family of one of their daughters or sons. If their parents live in a separate household, married children will usually visit their parents on the weekend and call them regularly on the phone.
The primary carers of Chilean children are their mothers. However, families in a higher socioeconomic class often count on the full-time support of ‘empleadas domésticas’ or ‘empleadas del hogar’ (‘domestic workers’), who usually live in the family home. Some domestic workers known as ‘puerta afuera’ (‘outside the door’) will stay during the day and work from Monday to Saturday, returning to their own home in the evenings. While tending to the children, they may also cook and clean for the household. Within lower class families and indigenous families, it is typically the older brothers and sisters who care for toddlers, as their parents often work outside the home.
The Household Structure and Gender Roles
Formerly in most homes, men held more authority over women. While the father used to be in charge of decision-making, the mother also had considerable influence over decisions. This has changed in recent years with an increase in the economic independence of women (regardless of their socioeconomic class). Many are living alone or having children out of wedlock.
is a prevalent attitude throughout Chilean society. Under this cultural standard, men are expected to be masculine, proud, self-reliant and dominant. An effect of this attitude is visible in the differing expectations placed upon men and women in regard to their social circles after marriage. For example, married men grant themselves a high level of freedom while expecting their wives to stay at home. At times, Chilean men may also become jealous and protective towards their wives.
Younger generations are challenging the perception of traditional household structures and attitudes. People are increasingly accepting of alternatives to the traditional family such as unmarried couples, single mothers, gay couples and couples without children. The younger generation of men are also making an effort to share domestic responsibilities and support their wives’ careers. Indeed, in contemporary Chile, there is a growing tendency for the relationship between the husband and wife to be premised on reciprocity, with the man assisting his wife and vice versa. Women are also challenging the mentality by focusing on their independence.
Dating and Marriage
Chileans will typically begin dating by the age of 16. Group dating is common among the youth, whereby a group of single men and single women will organise an outing, with the hopes of forming a romantic partnership. Couples will often date for one to three years before deciding to become engaged. Since Chile is a class-conscious society, people will generally marry persons from a similar social and educational background.
Living together before marriage was once quite rare. Nowadays, cohabitation before marriage is more common and is legally recognised in Chile. In 2015, the Chilean parliament passed the Civil Union Law, which can be applied in both heterosexual and homosexual couples. This law allows couples living together to have the same civil rights as married couples.
For many Chileans, marriage is seen as one of the most significant rites of passage. There is a tendency to look at those who are single in their 30s with slight pity or disapproval. Men tend to marry at the age of 22 onwards, while women will often marry between 18 and 23. However, this average age of marriage has increased and Chileans tend to marry in their early 30s. Although a civil ceremony is sufficient for a marriage to be officially recognised, most Chileans also choose to have a church ceremony. Although Chile was one of the last countries in the world to legalise divorce (2004), it is still quite uncommon for couples to legally separate. This is in part due to the influence of the opinions of the Catholic Church.
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