Vignette 10.1 Portrait of a Typical Russian Family Today

Vladimir and Olga are a typical Russian couple. (Although they are fictitious characters, their story is based on many real ones and represents a common narrative of family life in Russia today.) They are in their late 30s, have been married for 16 years, and have a son who is 15 years old. They live in an industrial city of 500,000 people in the Urals. Their combined income is about 25,000 rubles per month (about $1,000). They live in a formerly state-owned two-room apartment that they fully own, as they were able to privatize it during the 1990s.

Vladimir is a computer programmer. He graduated from a technical university in Yekaterinburg (then Sverdlovsk) when he was 22, and he has two jobs. One is his old job at a state university, which he has had ever since he got out of college; it is a research position supporting computing applications for a department. Another is a job for a local bank, programming its computers and doing some Web design. The first job is full-time and pays about 4,000 rubles per month. The second job is part-time, but pays about 15,000 rubles a month. The reason why he keeps both is that the first provides some security, while the second obviously makes him more money. Because of his first job, he is also able to travel as a scholar to the United States or Germany and to work there periodically on short contracts. His bank job is less secure, because private companies can easily lay off people, and also because his boss is unpredictable and prone to rash decisions.

Olga is a nurse who works at the local hospital. She makes about 6,000 rubles per month. Her job is very secure, but tiring and time-consuming. She has very little time or energy to read books or to see plays at the local theater, which she would like to do. However, she admits that life could be far worse. Because she and Vladimir own their apartment and have only one child, they have enough money left for food, clothes, and limited entertainment. They do not own a car, so they do not need to worry about gas or maintenance. However, recent steep increases in utility and public transportation rates have made her worry. Privately, Olga hopes that Vladimir lands a 3-year contract to work abroad, so that he can make a lot more money. While he is working abroad, she thinks, she can study full time and pass the required tests to get certification as a registered nurse, which may help her find a job in the United States. However, she is not sure that she will be able to leave her native country for a very long time. Their son is in 10th grade. He wants to become a computer scientist, like his dad. However, he is also interested in playing chess and has won some regional tournaments. He does not think he will want to marry until he is 25 or older.