The family unit is a very important aspect of Venezuelan culture. Venezuelan families are generally tight-knit, close and supportive, providing an economic and social safety-net. Extended family ties play a particularly large role in outer-urban regions and rural areas. However, many families have been split and divided between different countries since the crisis began (see The Crisis in Core Concepts). Therefore, some people’s experience may differ from the traditional family structure.
Urban families usually have two or three children.1 Meanwhile, up to five or six children can be common in rural areas and families of lower socioeconomic status.2 Some parents believe that having more children will ensure better care into their old age. It is common for adult children to continue to live in their parents’ home until they are financially stable or married (often past their early 20s). In return, they are expected to care for their older family members into their old age. For example, a widowed elderly parent will often move into their adult child’s family home.
Some families will live together in the same house for their whole lives. Moving a parent into a nursing home can be seen as a failure of a child’s duty to support their parents in their old age. The expectation of intergenerational dependence within the family is captured by the joke, “Vive de tus padres hasta que puedas vivir de tus hijos”, meaning “Live off your parents until you can live off your children”. Extended relatives generally live close to one another, sometimes even in the same house. Many Venezuelans also have a pair of godparents (often friends of their parents) that are considered part of the family.
Traditionally, men are the primary income earners for the family and are more predominant in the public sphere, while women are generally the homemakers. Many women are financially independent with full-time jobs or careers. Those in the middle and lower classes are often particularly independent and self-sustaining (personally and financially). Yet, the responsibility of emotional support, raising children, and the stability of the family home usually falls to female family members regardless of whether or not they have employment. As a result, women generally perform far more hours of unpaid labour within the family unit.
Venezuelan women generally hold a very prominent position in the domestic sphere. Indeed, the mother or grandmother usually runs the family home and provides the backbone of the family structure. Their authority over the household is highly respected. Grandmothers are especially revered.
The traditional set of ideal attributes belonging to males and females inare known as ‘machismo’ and ‘marianismo’ respectively. Under these cultural standards, men are expected to be masculine, self-reliant and dominant. Meanwhile, women are expected to be pure, moral, respectable people (heavily influenced by the iconography of the Virgin Mary in Roman Catholicism). This perception is often stronger in higher classes, among elite families where women can afford not to work. The majority of Venezuelans are more relaxed about this. For example, there is not a strong expectation of women’s virginity at marriage. Nevertheless, the general cultural attitude towards women is quite . Venezuelan men are often very proud and protective of their wives, mothers and sisters.
A high standard of beauty and personal grooming is expected of women in Venezuela. It is common for women to spend several hours a day getting ready, and cosmetic surgery is a popular and accepted practice. This is reflected in the popularity and prestige of beauty pageants in the country. Beauty pageants celebrate the idea of the ‘perfect’ Venezuelan woman inculture. However, they also celebrate and showcase the pride that Venezuelans have for their country.
Dating and Marriage
Dating practices in Venezuela are similar to those throughout the English-speaking West. It is common for people to date on a casual basis without the expectation of marriage in mind. This is especially true among younger urban Venezuelans in their teens and early 20s. However, many people also enter long-term relationships hoping to eventually marry. Most Venezuelans aim to be married before they are 30 years old.
Venezuelans generally start dating around the age of 13 or 14, commonly meeting romantic partners at school, work or social events. Interactions are expected to occur organically.3 It is acceptable for Venezuelan men to approach unknown women on the street and ask them for a date. On the street, catcalling can be both common and unwanted. Known as ‘piropos’, catcalls are commonly directed at women, and can be vulgar. Some women may find being catcalled flattering, but in general these comments are ignored.
When a man proposes to a woman, he may ask the permission of her father to do so first – an act known as ‘pedir la mano’. This was more common in the previous generation, but may still be practiced. Once the proposal has been successful, Venezuelans celebrate with bachelor parties and bachelorette parties. Venezuelan weddings require a civil ceremony to officiate the marriage in law. However, most couples will also choose to have a religious ceremony that is a lot bigger. The father of the bride is usually expected to pay for the wedding. Divorce is legal in Venezuela and is relatively common. However, same-sex marriage is illegal and continues to be stigmatised.