Bosnia and Herzegovina is the most ethnically mixed country of the former Yugoslavia. Three South Slavic peoples, the Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, make up most of the population, with religion and history being the major distinctions between them. Serbs tend to live in the north, while most Croats live in Herzegovina and most Bosniaks inhabit cities. Other groups such as Albanians, Jews, Roma and Turks also live throughout the country.

Traditionally, many South Slavs lived in large households or zadruga , which consisted of several related families. By owning land in common, a zadruga shared the labour and struggles of a farming life. Families could always be sure of having many hands present to share the workload, leaving leisure time for other activities.

Today, although over half the population lives in rural areas, most families are nuclear in structure and couples have few children. Yet the custom of the extended family remains: grandparents often live with their adult children, providing child care while parents are at work and receiving the security of a family life. Children are raised with the expectation that they will later care for older or needy relatives. Similarly, the old custom of godparenting is still widely practised and considered a permanent bond between families.

In cities, women work outside the home in all areas of society and are legally guaranteed equal pay. Although women have equal political and economic rights, at home they still bear most of the responsibility for housework and shopping. Friends and relatives often help with child care.

Divorce is less common in the Balkan countries than elsewhere in Europe, but the rate has been increasing. A chronic shortage of housing also complicates the situation, sometimes forcing divorced couples to stay together in the same apartment simply because there is no other option. In cities, most people live in apartments; in the countryside, people own modest homes made of stone, brick or wood.

The recent war has also taken a toll on families. Many are now headed by widows. Cities are home to thousands of refugees who fled the countryside and sometimes inhabit abandoned buildings. In addition, the war compelled many people to emigrate from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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Traditionally in Muslim families, to become a godparent, an adult would cut a lock from the child’s head and place it over a gold coin, which would be tied up to secure the lock in place.