Hungarian Heritage

Family and Kinship in Hungarian Society

In traditional Hungarian rural society, the prevailing social unit was the nuclear family. However, in certain regions the self-sufficiency of the family economy depended heavily on the labor force provided by the extended family, which consisted of roughly thirty members (made up of the families of male descendants of a common ancestry) and up to four generations. The head of the extended family was the eldest male, a lifelong honor that came with considerable influence and prestige. His duties were shared with his wife (or another prestigious female), who became the matriarch and assisted in running the household.

The division of labor within extended families was based primarily on age and gender. For instance, several generations of women were responsible for raising children, which relieved the pressure on a single set of parents. Similarly, agricultural work was shared among several generations, which benefited everyone during such peak times as planting and harvest.

Today, nuclear families—consisting of only two generations, parents and children—are still much more common in Hungarian households. But the vitality and legacy of the network of godparents, grandparents, and other relatives continue to be an essential part of family life.

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