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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Married Life Has Its Perks for Young People

At Dina Yusupova and Anton Nikolayev's wedding ceremony in a marriage registry office, the two 18-year-olds giggled constantly, like naughty schoolchildren. A bridesmaid kept teasing Yusupova and tugging on her dress behind her back.


The solemn woman who ran the marriage registry office got angry at the newlyweds, who behaved with such disgraceful irreverence, and sped up the ceremony to get them out of the office. The couple's wedding gifts were more fun than practical, including a white rat from the groom's parents.


Despite the playful beginning, Yusupova, who is in her fifth year of journalism school at Moscow State University, or MGU, and Nikolayev, a sophomore biology student, are happy with their lives and consider the marriage a serious decision.


"We didn't get married to settle down and have a household full of kids, but in order to solve the housing problem," said Yusupova, now a cheerful 21-year-old with a serene smile, as she served tea in a spacious dormitory room with modest furniture and huge loudspeakers. "It was a very pragmatic, if not mercantile, move."


The tall, fresh-faced Nikolayev, sitting slumped on a couch, hurriedly added that there was love, too. They fell in love at first sight, starting to live together the day after they met.


"We have an easygoing relationship and don't sweat over the everyday routine and the future," Nikolayev said. Being married "helps us feel more confident. We support each other."


They are not planning to have children for at least two years. Their current priorities are studying, finding well-paid jobs and buying a computer.


Whereas a few years ago Russian students married on romantic whims or as the result of unwanted pregnancies, today students like Nikolayev and Yusupova are marrying early to get additional state benefits. In addition, having a good marriage isn't enough; they also have ambitious educational and financial goals.


"The number of stupid, senseless, hysterical marriages has decreased and more young people base their lives on responsibility and fulfilling serious, sharp goals," said Konstantin Surnov, a psychologist at the Center for Family and Childhood and the Krug Center, a counseling facility. "Unfortunately, the reasons for that reflect the distorted morality of modern society with its [cult of] money and cynicism."


Nevertheless, pragmatic marriages are not a new post-perestroika phenomenon in Russia. During the Soviet era, the government offered young couples immediate housing, if they agreed to build the apartments themselves using materials provided by the state. Also, a network of stores for newlyweds or those soon to be married -- Gimeney -- offered food, household goods and clothes that were unavailable at regular stores. People were allowed to shop at Gimeney only after they applied for marriage.


But the ruse didn't always work. Fellow students, who had no intention of staying married, would apply, go shopping and have a huge party with vodka, champagne and cheese, only to later cancel the marriage.


Today's benefits are designed to make it easier for married students to stay together. Nevertheless, most married students interviewed said at least one spouse had to hold down a part- or full-time job to make ends meet. In addition, according to a survey conducted by the Young Family Support Center, 80 percent of young families accept financial help from their parents, even if they are pensioners.


Their parents' support and jobs have helped Nikolayev and Yusupova to survive. Nikolayev left school to join an advertising agency and boosted his income working as a disc jockey at discotheques, doing occasional translations and unloading trucks. Now that he is back in school, Yusupova has become the family's main breadwinner, earning about 1.77 million rubles ($300) a month as a journalist.


This money, together with the couple's stipend of 354,000 rubles per month, goes to buy food, books and music and to pay the 224,000 ruble rent for Nikolayev, who being a Muscovite, is not entitled to a free bed in the dorm. Their parents buy clothes and pay for other major expenses.


When married students have children, the benefits increase, said Boris Kotlobovsky, leader of the MGU student trade-union. Young mothers receive a one-time donation of about 1.2 million rubles and 84,000 rubles per month until the child turns 3 years old. The children of the students who live at the MGU family dormitory are delivered to child care facilities and kindergartens by the university shuttle bus.


Alexander Plotnikov, director of the Young Family Support Center, an organization that is part of the State Committee on Youth Issues, is skeptical that government money is sufficient to live on, though he acknowledges that some student families do subsist on it.


"You can survive with this money, but cannot live normally," he said.


To make life easier for married students, MGU has a married-student dormitory, which some say is the best dormitory in Russia. Paying a symbolic rent of 12,000 rubles per person per month, 340 families call this 16-story building on Prospekt Vernadskogo home. There is a gym, a playroom and a friendly, communal spirit. Unlike other student dormitories in Moscow, there are practically no fights or drunkenness here.


Vera Baranova, who has worked in dormitories for 17 years, said she thinks having family housing at MGU has helped student marriages survive.


"We are trying to create for them conditions to live a happy family life rather than get divorced," she said.


Even if students are not enrolled consistently, they can stay in the family dorm as long as their spouse is enrolled. This helped Svetlana Kudryavtseva, 27, stay in school and care for her family. The chemistry student from the Lipetsk region in Central Russia has lived in a dormitory room with her husband and 6-year-old daughter for seven years.


Kudryavtseva boosts her stipend and occasional grants with what she earns operating a copier for a few hours a day, explaining that students are typically not fastidious about what job they accept, from washing other people's laundry to high profile scientific research. Her husband also combines graduate studies and work.


"My girlfriends who haven't gotten married yet say they are jealous of me because I managed to achieve so much in my life despite all the difficulties -- I finished my studies, got a family and raised a child at the same time," Kudryavtseva said.