The family unit is the most important foundation of Greek society, providing emotional and economic support to the individual. Greek families have generally become smaller in size over the past few decades as the fertility rate has declined. Nevertheless, relationships remain extremely close. The social life of most Greeks deeply involves their relatives and the extended family plays a strong role in one’s life.
Greeks tend to be very proud of their families. Being a collectivist culture, a person’s family name and background influences perceptions of an individual’s reputation, status and honour. There is often a social pressure to present one’s family name in a good light. It is not uncommon to hear Greeks publicly praising their family’s dignity and integrity by pointing out their achievements and positive qualities. Furthermore, you may find that a Greek disputes criticisms or challenges of their family members to prevent any discredit. Any insult towards a person can be interpreted as a slur on their family as well.
Most Greeks live as nuclear families in a single household; however, the extended family is kept close and visited often. In some cases, more than two generations may live together. This usually occurs when aging grandparents have moved in to live and be cared for by the core family unit. Nursing homes and residential care are viewed negatively; if Greeks must live in a nursing home, their children are expected to visit them often and make all arrangements for them.
Age gives authority in Greek families and society at large. The elderly are given utmost respect and are consulted when any major decision is made. Most people are taught never to talk back or argue with the opinions of those older than them. Greek parents generally have a lot of influence over their children throughout their lives and are deeply devoted to them. Indeed, Greek children often live in their parents’ home for years into their adulthood. Newlywed couples may also live in the home of their in-laws until they can find or afford their own housing. Greeks often assist their relatives in finding employment as well.
The ‘γιαγιά’ (grandmother) and ‘pappoús’ (grandfather) play a particularly important role in child raising, often looking after a child whenever parents are unavailable. Many Greeks also have a pair of godparents that are chosen at their birth. The choice of ‘noná’ (godmother) and ‘nonós’ (godfather) is particularly significant because it represents the solidification of a friendship within the inner family. It is expected grandparents and godparents will take responsibility to ensure that a child finishes their education and enters the workforce if anything renders their parents unable to care for them.
Greek society has been traditionally male dominated. There has been quite a masculine ideal of men cast as the strong provider for the family. Many Greek men today continue to feel that it is their responsibility to be the provider and breadwinner for their family, as society is still quite patriarchal. Some may feel that it is emasculating to have their wife earn more than themselves. Today, most Greek women receive a high level of education and work to contribute to the household income; however, they are still expected to be responsible for the majority of the household duties. Women also face challenges due to the wage gaps in the Greek workforce.
Marriage and Dating
Marriage is a highly respected convention in Greek society, especially among devout Greek Orthodox Christians. However, the dynamics of a couple’s engagement and union have changed with modern times. Traditionally, a man would ask a woman’s parents for permission to marry her. The couple would then have a long period of engagement in which they became more acquainted with each other. This formality may still be followed in rural areas, but it is generally no longer necessary.
Most Greeks date casually in a way that is familiar to Australians. Parents rarely exercise control over their children’s choice in partners, and many couples will live together for years before marrying or choose not to marry at all. However, couples have to marry to be legally recognised. De facto relationships or common law marriages are not recognised in the Greek legal system. In 2009, it became possible to register civil partnerships without having a religious ceremony. The average age of marriage in Greece is 20 to 26 for women and 25 to 35 for men. Divorce has become more common in recent years.