Lao Culture

Family

The family is an important institution in Laos and tends to be the foundation of social life. Lao tend to have large and close-knit families, with four to five children on average. Three generations living together in the same household is common. This household structure is more widespread in rural areas than in urban areas, where couples tend to have fewer children. Members of extended families will often share their resources and help one another raise their children. Older children are expected to assist in maintaining the household, be it through taking care of younger children or supporting family members with day-to-day tasks.


In Laos, many families tend to live matrilocally, which means that a husband becomes part of the wife's community. As a result, matrilocality gathers together related females and unrelated males, in turn strengthening bonds between the women in a community. Despite such, kinship is reckoned through both the male and female line. In general, there is little genealogical consciousness beyond the past two to three generations, except among the former aristocracy.


Reciprocity

Hierarchical interdependence is a core value instilled in Lao children from a young age. Parents will raise and support their children, while children are expected to reciprocate this as soon as they can by honouring their parents. Thus, children who have moved out of the home will often support their parents by visiting often. Urban couples may live farther from their extended family in hopes of seeking greater education and employment opportunities. In this instance, many will send money back to their parents as a means to provide support. Moreover, as parents age, at least one child, usually a daughter, is expected to care for their elderly parents.


Gender Roles

Regarding legal rights, women and men are considered equal. However, apart from age, gender is often the primary way social roles and practices are organised. Moreover, many families in Laos are involved in farming. In turn, family members will work the land together, often with a division of labour by gender. For example, women usually take care of the home, children and household finances. Many women also engage in simple trade (e.g., running a small corner store) or in the production of handicrafts. Women located in more urbanised areas work in companies and civil service positions.


On the other hand, the eldest man is typically the head of the household and the decision maker. Some may hold the view that men are superior to women due to their ability to become monks, but this is not widely held. Concerning employment, men are usually responsible for heavy labour such as ploughing rice paddies. In the public sector, men tend to hold most of the political positions; however, this is slowly changing. Regarding income, there is not a prevalent gender pay gap. Educated women tend to face inequalities in promotion rather than income. Nonetheless, education provides women access to more opportunities in employment.


Dating and Marriage

Typically, single Lao women and men will form a relationship with their longtime friends, with whom they socialise within friendship groups or at festivals, school or work. Once someone is in a relationship, it is typical for each partner to meet one another's family. Adult relationships are generally expected to result in marriage.


Overall, young people are relatively free to choose their marriage partners. Arranged marriages exist to an extent among specific ethnic groups that live in remote areas, wherein there may be limited partners to choose from. For example, people may choose not to marry those within their village because they may be related. Nonetheless, parents may suggest possible partners, and it is expected that parents will be consulted about potential marriage partners. Some Lao parents may want their children to marry people in the same ethnic group in order to maintain their cultural traditions and family line.


There are some notable differences between rural and urban parts of Laos. For example, cohabitation is highly taboo in rural areas but is becoming more common among young urban couples. Divorce is also rare, particularly in rural areas but is more notable in urban places. However, separation or divorce is not stigmatised.

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