Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents




Fruit vendor, Porto
Courtesy Andrea Matles Savada


Portuguese fishermen unload their catch.
Courtesy Portuguese National Tourist Office, New York

One of the striking characteristics of the Portuguese people is their propensity to emigrate. In the late 1980s, an estimated 3.5-4.0 million Portuguese passport holders were living in foreign lands, equal to over a third of the population residing in Portugal. Emigration, which was once a reflection of Portugal's international importance as a maritime and colonial power, became in the twentieth century, according to Thomas G. Sanders, "a reflection of its poverty and economic weakness." As a consequence of this population diaspora, large numbers of Portuguese migrants lived in Latin America (mainly Brazil and Venezuela), industrial Western Europe (mainly France and Germany), Africa (predominantly the Republic of South Africa), and North America (the United States and Canada). The Portuguese emigrants to the EC countries, numbering over 1 million, differed in several ways from those who went overseas: most of them were temporary workers who planned to return to their homeland, and most originated from the mainland rather than Madeira and the Azores (Ašores in Portuguese).

Portugal's comparative poverty within the EC was closely associated with lower per capita investment in human and physical capital. On the other hand, Portuguese workers were recognized for their strong work ethic, adaptability, and frugality. Among middle-income countries, few could match Portugal for its high family savings rate. Real wage rates over extended time periods closely reflected labor productivity, which in turn was correlated with the factors mentioned above. Although government intervention could temporarily alter the distribution of income in favor of labor through the manipulation of wage rates and consumer prices--as indeed happened in the mid-1970s--labor productivity eventually determined labor's earnings.

Data as of January 1993