Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents




The Bridge of April 25 at Lisbon
Courtesy General Directorate of Mass Communication, Lisbon

On most indices of social modernization, Portugal ranked at or near the bottom for all of Western Europe. Even in the early 1990s, despite some significant economic growth in the second half of the 1980s, Portugal remained relatively poor by West European standards. Although its range of public welfare programs was extensive, it lacked the funds to fully implement them and to pay substantial benefits.

Charity and alms-giving were traditionally thought to be the responsibility of the church. It provided welfare to the poor and took care of the sick, widows, and orphans. In addition, landowners and employers fulfilled their obligations of Christian charity by aiding the less fortunate through gifts, assistance, patronage, and benefits. The charitable institution established by Queen Leonor in the late fifteen century, Santa Casa de Misericórdia, had, even in the early 1990s, offices all through Portugal. Its charitable operations were financed by the national lottery. This system of charity provided by the church and the elite probably worked tolerably well through the 1920s, as long as Portugal remained a rural and Roman Catholic society. But urbanization, secularism, and large-scale impersonal organizations rendered the old system inadequate.

Salazar's corporative system attempted to fill the void but did so poorly. Only in the 1960s, far later than in other countries, were the first steps taken toward a modern state-run welfare system. As could be expected, the services this system provided were incomplete, irregular, and woefully underfunded. Urban centers received some benefits, but almost none went to the countryside. During the revolutionary 1970s, numerous health and social welfare programs were established, but only in the 1980s did Portugal have the stability and the resources to begin their implementation.

Data as of January 1993