How the Everyday Logic of Pragmatic Individualism Undermines Russian State Pronatalism

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

How the Everyday Logic of Pragmatic Individualism Undermines Russian State Pronatalism

  • Larisa Shpakovskaya Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland
  • Zhanna Chernova Institute of Sociology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia

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Abstract:  The article examines the reproductive decisions of Russian urban middle‐class women. We look at women’s lives in the context of Russian pronatalist family policy and the official conservative gender ideology of 2019–2020. Based on biographical interviews with 35 young women, we focus on working mothers. The sample is composed of middle‐class mothers since their lifestyle serves as a cultural model for the whole Russian society. We reconstruct the everyday rationalities deployed by the mothers to justify their reproductive decisions. The respondents seek “self‐realization,” postponing childbirth or limiting their reproduction. We reconstruct the discourse of “pragmatic individualism” as an everyday logic used by mothers, which helps them cope with the instability of the labor market and marriage and the lack of state social support. Using the logic of “pragmatic individualism,” women present themselves as respectable, socially competent individuals able to build their lives according to middle‐class living standards. The logic of pragmatic individualism contradicts the message of pronatalist state ideology based on “traditional” gender roles and high fertility. It gives women a rational explanation for why, despite socially supported childbearing, they decide to have only one or two children. We argue that while women rationalize childbearing decisions for financial security and social well‐being, their rationale is determined by class standards of respectability. These standards are associated with high standards of care and quality of life for a small number of children.

Keywords:  gender inequality; labor market; married women; middle class; pragmatic individualism; Russia; social policy; state pronatalism


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© Larisa Shpakovskaya, Zhanna Chernova. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.