Between the State and the Kin in Latvia: One-Person Household Social Security from Social Antropological Perspective
One-person household is the dominant type of household in today’s Latvia. Research on kinship in contemporary Europe suggests that weak kinship ties are characteristic of institutionally strong countries where individuals once incapacitated due to illness, disability, or old age can reckon on some social security. Kinship ties are not particularly strong in Latvia, nor does its social security system compensate for their weakness: the statistical data show that of all household types, one-person households are the most exposed to the risk of poverty, especially those of people over 64 years of age. The aim of the article is to provide a socio-anthropological insight into the ways in which the policies implemented by various political regimes in Latvia over the last one hundred years have promoted the formation of an economically independent individual, thus directly and indirectly weakening family and kinship ties. Drawing on our ethnographic data, we explore instances when the state welfare system failed to provide an individual with social security and inquire into the degree the family and kinship ties in such circumstances are likely to be re-established. The fieldwork findings suggest that the person whose next of kin needs additional assistance or care, faces a dilemma: either to provide support to the vulnerable relative while compromising his/her own economic stability, or to delegate care obligations to the state. However, our data also show: while the country’s social assistance system at times falls short of meeting the necessities of one or another vulnerable group, its social insurance system nevertheless has significantly shaped the sense of moral obligation in intergenerational relationships.
Tasks of the article are (1) to survey recent theoretical approaches and research findings on interaction between kinship and the state, (2) to outline the consequences for Latvians’ family and kinship ties of the policies implemented by consecutive political regimes over the previous century, and (3) to analyse the role of family and kinship in contemporary Latvia drawing on own ethnographic data as well as statistics and studies on kinship and paying a particular attention to the issue of social security of one-person households.