Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents


Chapter 2. The Society and Its Environment


Monsaraz, a medieval village near the Spanish frontier

AS A RESULT OF CHANGES wrought by the Revolution of 1974, Portugal in the 1990s would be almost unrecognizable to persons who knew the country twenty or thirty years ago. The Revolution of 1974 set loose social and political forces that the country had not seen before on such a large scale and which could not be entirely controlled. The revolution, in turn, occurred and had such a profound impact because of other, gradual social pressures that had been building for decades and even centuries. In the mid-1970s, these changes exploded to the surface. In the aftermath of the revolution, as Portuguese society continued to modernize and the country was admitted as a full member of the European Community (EC--see Glossary), social change continued, but not so frenetically and dramatically as during the revolutionary mid-1970s.

Before 1974 Portugal was a highly traditional society. It resembled what historian Barbara Tuchman called the "Proud Tower" of pre-World War I European society. Class and social divisions were tightly drawn and defined, society was organized on a rigidly hierarchical and authoritarian basis, and social relations were often stiff and formal. One was born into a certain station in life and was expected to stay there and to accept that fact; social mobility was limited. Class standing and class relations were clearly delineated by criteria of birth, dress, speech, and manner of behavior. Visitors often remarked that in Portugal one could still find a nineteenth-century society existing within a twentieth-century context.

Even within this rigid, very conservative, and traditionalist society, however, considerable change was beginning to occur, particularly during the 1960s as economic development accelerated. The trade unions had grown in size and assertiveness. The middle class was emerging as a numerically larger and sociologically more important element than therefore. A new business-industrial class had grown up alongside, and frequently overlapped with, the more traditional landed and noble class. In addition, Portugal experienced urbanization; at the same time, many Portuguese left the country in search of better opportunities abroad. Literacy was also rising, though slowly. As modernization and social change began to accelerate in the 1960s and early 1970s, discontent with the closed and authoritarian regime of António de Oliveira Salazar (1928-68) and his successor Marcello José das Neves Caetano (1968-74) also began to mount. These and other pressures culminated in the Revolution of 1974.

Following the revolution, which led to the establishment of democracy in Portugal, societal pressures continued. Pressures for education, land, jobs, better health care, housing, social equality, and solutions to Portugal's pressing social problems mounted. Portugal remained, even with the economic growth of the 1980s and early 1990s, a poor country compared to the West European standards. Moreover, rising expectations were threatening to overwhelm the democratic regime's capacities for resolving the problems. Portugal's full economic participation in the EC at the end of 1992, when it would no longer have the protection of high tariff barriers, added to social tensions and uncertainties. Thus, as Portugal began the 1990s, the promise of a new, stable, democratic era of development coexisted with a fear of what the future might bring.

Data as of January 1993