Portugal Table of Contents
The patriarchal and nuclear family traditionally served as the norm and the ideal in Portugal. Until the constitution of 1976 was promulgated, the father was seen as the head of the family, and his wife and children were obliged to recognize his authority. He, in turn, was obliged by law to support and protect his family. While the men worked outside the home, women were expected to care for the children and manage household affairs. Marriage was considered permanent; divorce was virtually unknown. During the period of Salazar's rule from 1928 to 1968, the family was even seen as the primary institution of politics; voting was organized under the regime, the Estado Novo (New State), on a family basis--only "heads of households" (usually men but sometimes women) could vote.
Although the nuclear and patriarchal family was the ideal, the cultural patterns varied considerably depending on class status and region. Upper- and middle-class families corresponded most closely to the ideal. Women remained at home tending the children and rarely ventured out unaccompanied, while husbands managed their businesses or followed their professions. Peasant and working-class families were marked by greater variation. In northern Portugal, for example, names and property were often passed on through the mother because of the absence abroad of male heads of households for long periods. The fact that women could inherit land in Portugal gave women in rural areas some independence, and many of them managed their own farms, took their produce to market, and did much heavy work elsewhere seen as suitable for men. The absence of men because of emigration meant that many women never married and also resulted in a higher rate of illegitimacy than in other Mediterranean countries.
The slow modernization of the Portuguese economy, the increasing employment of women outside the home, and the emigration of many women, as well as the spread of new ideas about the place of women and the nature of marriage, gradually changed the nature of the Portuguese family, despite the attempts of Salazar's Estado Novo to preserve the male-dominated nuclear family. The Revolution of 1974 responded to these long pent-up social pressures.
The reforms enacted after the revolution established in the civil code that men and women were equals in marriage, with the same rights to make family decisions. Divorce became much easier, and the number of divorces increased from 1,552 in 1975 to 5,874 in 1980 and 9,657 in 1989. The number of separations, formerly the main method of ending a marriage, fell from 670 in 1975 to 70 in 1980 but climbed to 195 in 1989. Illegitimacy was no longer to be mentioned in official documents because it was regarded as discriminatory; the frequency of births out of wedlock rose from 7.2 percent to 14.5 percent between 1975 and 1989. Abortion under certain conditions became legal in 1984. Maternal leave with full pay for ninety days was established for working mothers in 1976. A small family allowance program was also instituted that made payments at the birth of a child and all through his or her childhood. Family planning also became an integral part of Portugal's social welfare program; the number of children born per woman fell from 2.2 in 1980 to 1.7 in 1985 and 1.5 in 1988.
Relations within the family came to resemble more closely those of the rest of Western Europe. Children were less respectful to their parents, dating without chaperones was the rule, and outings in mixed gender groups or as couples were taken for granted--all things that would not have happened during much of the Salazar era.
Still, some characteristics of Portuguese family life remained constant. Marriage and kinship networks in Portugal were often based on social and political criteria as much as on love or natural attraction. To a degree that often surprised outsiders, even in the early 1990s many Portuguese marriages were arranged. For the peasant class, considerations of land were often most important in determining marriage candidates. Marriages might be arranged to consolidate property holdings or to tie two families together rather than result from the affection two people might feel for one another. Middle-class families often had status and prestige considerations in mind when they married. Among the upper classes, marriage might be for the purposes of joining two businesses, two landholdings, or two political clans.
Data as of January 1993
Portugal Table of Contents