Turkish culture is very family oriented. There is a strong belief that people should maintain ties with their relatives and care for their parents and elders into their old age. Turks may live in their family home for a long time into adulthood and visit their family on a regular basis. One can usually call on extended relatives to provide emotional and economic support.
The size and structure of Turkish households vary significantly throughout the country. Most households are nuclear, with the average number of children for a couple being two. Apartment living is increasing as the size of families has generally decreased. However, in some regions, it is not uncommon to see families with up to twelve children living in a compound with shared amenities (particularly among Kurdish homes).
Within the family dynamic, respect is accorded by age. Generally, the eldest has the most authority and should not be disrespected or strongly disagreed with. Most Turks will refrain from arguing or smoking in front of elders and adopt a more formal approach towards them. In accordance to this age , the eldest sibling (preferably the son) usually takes on the role of caretaker for younger siblings when parents are absent.
Turkey is also very child-friendly. Many public places are designed for children, and strangers may be openly affectionate with other people’s kids. For example, they may greet and hug an unknown child without hesitation. People like to take their children with them wherever they go, allowing them to stay up quite late, and parents may hire nannies that accompany the child if they are not available. It is quite normal to see children playing in the street unsupervised.
Traditionally, men are the breadwinners and provide the main source of household income. They are often exempt from most domestic duties, with the exception being male children who are expected to help their mothers. Women are generally seen as homemakers, managing money, cooking, cleaning and hosting. In rural areas, they may also contribute to the household by engaging in much of the agricultural production, children’s education, etc.
Women traditionally carry greater expectations of social compliance than men and are often seen as particularly vulnerable targets that need to be protected. They are required to show modesty and not bring shame to their family by immodest or immoral behaviour. Meanwhile, fathers and husbands may see it as their duty to be the guardians of family honour and keep their female family members free from scandal. The senior male of the family has the authority to make decisions about his female family members’ behaviour in order to preserve the family honour. Families may be less or more strict about this, depending on their social attitudes. However, generally male relatives’ tend to be quite of their female family members.
Gender equality has been a core objective of the Turkish government since the modernising momentum of Atatürkism (see National Origins and Kemalism under Core Concepts). Female participation and education is encouraged and more women are gaining political influence. However, there remains a strong male dominance in society and the position of women in the rural and working-class sectors remains mainly traditional. For example, the vast majority of small business owners and service people are men (e.g. merchants, street vendors). Many still share a common view that women need their husband's permission in order to work. Some Turkish men may also only speak to the males in a room without addressing females for their opinions. Moreover, a lower education level often inhibits women from progressing in their careers. A recent study found 1 in 3 Turkish mothers are illiterate.1
Dating and Marriage
“Dating” (in the Western sense of the word) is not common in Turkey outside of universities or large urban areas. There is a strong social expectation that unmarried people from opposite genders should not show interest or affection towards one another alone in public. Therefore, people date/socialise in groups or at functions where they will not draw public attention. People generally date with the hope of marriage in mind. Once a couple becomes official, their families will generally push for marriage to come soon after (particularly in rural areas). Many couples will keep knowledge of their girlfriend/boyfriend away from conservative family members for some time whilst developing their relationship.
People are generally free to choose their partner in urban areas. Families can be more heavily involved in rural areas. The average age for marriage is 22 for women and 25 for men. Most Turkish marriages are conducted as a civil service in addition to a religious service (officiated by an Imam). Among more traditional families, it is a strong cultural requirement that a woman be a virgin/untouched (bakire) before marriage. Cohabitation before marriage is also uncommon, as many believe men and women should only live together if married.
Divorce is not common and most Turkish couples seek to avoid it if possible. When it does occur, the belongings and wealth of a couple are split equally between them. Divorced women tend to face more challenges remarrying in rural areas. Interethnic and interreligious marriage is becoming more socially accepted. However, same-sex marriage remains highly stigmatised.
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