Although influenced by North American values, the Dominican Republic maintains the Spanish tradition of familial solidarity. People look to their family and relatives for support and help. Until the 1970s, most community activities were family-based: extended families often worked together in joint endeavours. Most families consist of two generations. However, it is still common to have three generations living in the same household, with the oldest male having the most authority.
In addition to blood relationships, people may have relationships of compadrazgo or "co-parentage." Compadres are godparents who play an important role in their godchildren's life. Godparents are chosen before the child's birth and are expected to assist with the child's education, career and even finances.
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Divorce laws are so lax that people come from other countries to obtain a divorce in the Dominican Republic.
Many poor couples do not have a religious or civil wedding ceremony because of the high cost. They live together in common-law relationships. If one of these unions disolves, the house in which the couple lived is usually given to the woman. Child support is provided only if a child is legally recognized by the father. Couples who go through a civil wedding can dissolve the marriage quite easily, but those who have had a religious wedding must get an annulment from the Roman Catholic Church.
Dominicans adhere to very traditional gender roles. Men and boys are expected to demonstrate machismo, or maleness, and personalismo which means putting one's dignity and honour above abstract political and collective ideologies. It is socially acceptable for a man to have relationships with a succession of women or even several women at the same time. There is no shame associated with a man who fathers many children by different women and maintains extramarital relationships, as long as he assumes the role of head of the family and supports his children.
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The compadrazgo relationship is considered so important that Rafael Trujillo used it to his advantage. He conducted mass baptisms at which he became the godfather of thousands of peasants' children.
Women are expected to be submissive and to stay at home. However, many women must work outside the home to earn money. Women are becoming more important in the workforce and in politics. This is true for all classes, but particularly for poorer families, where men are sometimes absent from the home altogether. In these households, a grandmother or mother assumes not only her traditional caregiver role, but also the role of the breadwinner.