Retired in Lithuania | True Lithuania
True Lithuania

Age groups and genders in Lithuania

The Soviet clichés imposed on every age group had a person's life neatly divided into distinct "age bands", each with its own duties. For example, playing board games, watching animation and drinking refreshing drinks had been only acceptable to children, only adults were permitted to eat at restaurants, while the seniors were expected to stay at home (garden) and help rear grandchildren. Many watched with disbelief as President Valdas Adamkus (a Lithuanian-American) drank Coca Cola in the 1990s - "is he still a child?" question lingered.

This mindset still limits senior citizen's lifestyle. For example, unlike in the West, it is uncommon for retired citizens to travel abroad as many consider themselves to be too old and unhealthy for this. The fact that most senior Lithuanians spent their youths without many things that were already commonly available in the West (e.g. personal cars, dining out, bank cards) also influences their lack of will/ability to use them today.

Moreover, the former Soviet policies made the retired Lithuanians rather poor. There have been no pension funds in Lithuania, meaning that the current workforce (rapidly decreasing due to emigration) is forced to pay the pensions to the entire retiree population (23% of all citizens). The old age pension is therefore relatively small but even this puts a great strain on the economy, pushing the state to borrow money at high costs.

Perhaps due to lack of safety during their lifetimes, most retirees are saving a large share of their incomes (in their home rather than in the mistrusted banks). This further reduces the actual disposable incomes of the retirees and leads to sad stories when these savings are stolen by con-artists specializing at this.

Students in Vilnius

Elderly poeple stop to buy press after the Holy mass. Much of the Lithuanian elderly are not using internet or computers. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

While the elderly are customarily respected (e.g. by yielding them a seat in public transport), more often than not they are somewhat "written off" by the society. Their wisdom, acquired in life conditions extremely different from the ones today (i.e. under the Soviet occupation), is seen as no longer useful.

The youth is generally more westernized than their parent or grandparent generations and the old social divisions give way to the new ones that are common in the Western Europe. The common way to grow up is to attend a kindergarten, attend a school 7 to 18 y/o and then immediately seek university education (up to Master's degree). Of these, only the school is compulsory. Most people start to seek job only after completing their studies; prior to that, they commit their free time to "being students" instead (partying, etc.), save for an occasional summer job (if one follows the massive study programs rigorously (s)he'll have very little free time anyway). While the rigid "first education, then job" sequence dates back to the Soviet age-band clichés, parts of them have changed: back then universities were reserved only for the most capable while army conscription and vocational education were for the rest.

Students in Vilnius

Students leave Vilnius University campus. Nearly all students in Lithuanian universities join them immediately after school and a strong majority are female. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Adults aged 25 to 55 are the bulk of society and the major taxpayers. They generally live on their own and decide independently (including selecting a husband/wife). The late 20s to early 30s are popular ages for the wedding and having children. "Official marriage" these days both comes later and feels more optional than under the Soviet occupation when somebody unmarried at 25 used to be considered a likely lifelong bachelor(ette) by peers. While many still meet their serious partners in the early 20s, many prefer some career before the wedding. The psychological definition of a "young person" has also widened: it now generally covers much of the 30s whereas before independence 30s was held to be "middle age" and even parties/discos for "those over 30" used to be separate.

Women are prominent in Lithuanian public life. According to the World Bank, Lithuania is the only country in Europe to regularly have more women than men in its workforce (50,5% in 2012). Currently, the percentage is at 49,9% but it is still larger than that for any single European or Western country.

The reason is that, unlike most of Western countries, Lithuania never really had a period in history where women wouldn't be expected to work. On the eve of Soviet occupation (1940), Lithuania was still an agricultural society, with 70% of the population living in the villages. In the family farms, it was typical for the whole family to share the labor. This society was suddenly uprooted by the Soviet occupation where it was mandatory for everybody (including women) to work (and, unlike in some other parts of the Soviet Union, this was not culturally unacceptable in Lithuania). After Lithuania became independent in 1990 and the middle class finally slowly developed but women continued to work as this was the way it has always been and the example of richer Western countries that Lithuanians tried to emulate by now also included largely working female populations.

51% of the Lithuanian researchers are also female. Female suffrage dates to the very first democratic elections in Lithuania (Great Seimas of Vilnius, 1905), while the 1926 presidential elections already had two female candidates (out of four).

Students in Vilnius

Key female participants of the Lithuanian national revival: Sofija Čiurlionienė, Gabrielė Petkevičaitė (a politician who presided over the first session of independent Lithuania's parliament and was a presidential candidate in 1926) and Žemaitė (a writer).

However, while most Lithuanian women work, there is still a popular belief that it is a duty of a man to provide for the family. In such families, only the husband is expected to do a serious career while the wife often selects the most interesting job instead, giving much less regard to the salary. Because of this, Lithuanian men on average earn more than the women, although this gap is smaller than in most other European countries. Moreover, the situation is changing, as increasingly many women opt to do serious careers, whereas increasingly many men seek to have more interesting jobs even if they pay less. This is especially true for those under 40 and even more so for those under 30.

The women are customarily respected by allowing them to pass a door first.

Read more: Generations in Lithuania

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  1. Did a kiss on a lips to a mother by a son is a respect even though the man is already an adult?

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