Until the early 1980s, the growth of large cities and the concentration of industry there went mostly unchecked. However, because of such problems as a chronic housing shortage, pollution, and a declining birth rate, authorities attempted to exercise greater control over migration to the major cities; among other things, the government encouraged greater development and growth in small and medium-sized cities. Women as a group were over-represented in the lower-paid occupations and under-represented in high positions in the economy, government, and the party. If married, they performed most of the homemaking chores in addition to their work outside the home. This overwork, coupled with crowded housing conditions, contributed to a high rate of divorce and abortion.
Housing problems and the lack of privacy contributed significantly to the high rate of divorce. One study showed that nearly 20 percent of divorces occurring during the first years of marriage were attributed to housing problems and about 1 8 percent to conflicts with parents. In 1973 in Leningrad, 31.7 percent of divorcing couples had lived with parents or in a hostel, 62.3 percent in a shared apartment, and only 5.1 percent in a separate apartment.
Social position also played a significant role in the allocation of living space. The perennial shortage of urban housing meant that insufficient individual apartments existed for those who desired them. Income played only a small role in housing distribution because the state owned most of the housing and charged artificially low rents. (A small number of cooperative apartments were sold, but these were beyond the means of most people.)
The elite received the most spacious and best quality housing, often as a job benefit. The elite also possessed more influential friends who could help them bypass the usually long waiting periods for apartments. The average family, in contrast, either shared an apartment with other families, using the bathroom and kitchen as common areas, or lived in a very small private apartment. A 1980 article in a prestigious Soviet journal on economics stated that about 20 percent of all urban families (53 percent in Leningrad) lived in shared apartments, although for the country as a whole this percentage was decreasing in the late 1980s.
The housing situation for young unmarried, and often unskilled, workers was worse. They often could find living space only in a crowded hostel operated by the enterprise in which they worked or in the corner of a room in a shared apartment. Until they could find their own apartment, young married people often lived with one set of parents. Housing in rural areas was more spacious than that found in urban apartments, but it usually had few amenities.
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