As the Soviet Union became urbanized, families grew more numerous and smaller in average size. Between the censuses of 1959 and 1989, the number of family units increased 41 percent, from 28.5 million to more than 40 million. Average family size in the Russian Republic declined from 3.4 persons in 1970 to 3.1 in 1989. Already in the late 1970s, more than 80 percent of urban families had two children or fewer. In 1989 some 87 percent of the population lived in families, of which about 80 percent were based on a married couple.
In the 1980s, the divorce rate in the Soviet Union was second in the world only to that of the United States, although "unofficial divorces" and separations also were common. Crowded housing and lack of privacy contributed heavily to the divorce rate, especially for couples forced to live with the parents of one spouse. Drunkenness and infidelity were other major causes. Divorce procedures were relatively simple, although courts generally attempted to reconcile couples. Custody of children normally was awarded to the mother. In the first half of the 1990s, the conditions contributing to the majority of Russia's divorces did not change, and the divorce rate increased.
In post-Soviet attitudes, the family continues to be viewed as the most important institution in society. In a 1994 poll funded by the Commission on Women's, Family, and Demographic Problems, less than 3 percent of respondents named "living alone without a family" as the best choice for a young person. Although the size of the average Russian family has decreased steadily over the past quarter-century, nearly 80 percent of respondents named children as the essential element of a good marriage. At the same time, about three-quarters of respondents said that a bad marriage should be terminated rather than prolonged; the poll also showed that, generally, the Russian attitude toward divorce is more positive than it was in the Soviet era.
According to the 1994 survey, the dynamics of the average Russian family have changed somewhat. Compared with 1989, about 3 percent fewer individuals characterized their marriages as in conflict, and 9 percent fewer called their marriages "egalitarian" in the distribution of authority between the partners. The average distribution of common household tasks was shown to be far from equal, with women performing an average of about 75 percent of cooking, cleaning, and shopping chores. Between 1989 and 1994, women's expression of dissatisfaction with their family situation increased 13 percent, while that of men rose only 2 percent. Women reporting family satisfaction were predominantly young or elderly, with adequate-to-high incomes and at least a secondary education. According to experts, social and economic crises have caused Russians to rely more heavily than ever on the family as a source of personal satisfaction. But these same crises have caused the standard of living to fall, and they have required that more time be spent at work to keep it from falling further, thus making it harder for families to sustain their most cherished attributes.