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The Changing Attitudes In Spain

The debate is on whether patterns of interaction are the result of changes in the larger political and/or economic sectors (Alberdi 1999) or, conversely, whether changes in individual/familial perspectives have served as catalysts to larger social change Spanish families celebrate together by having a picnic on Easter weekend. The town of Fermoselle can be seen in the background. STEPHANIE MAZE/CORBIS (Pérez-Díaz, Chuliá, and Valiente 2000). This debate remains unresolved. What seems clear, however, is that there has been a gradual and significant shift in attitudes regarding the way Spaniards define their roles and future goals within their interpersonal relationships. A review of the historical context yields a better sense of the magnitude of these changes. During Francisco Franco's government (1939–1975) both the laws of the state and the regulations of the Catholic Church enforced a set of structures aimed to preserve a conservative and patriarchal structure of the family, as well as significant control of the mass media and various institutions (Clark 1990).

Before the creation of the constitution in 1978 and the reforms of the civil code of 1981, Spanish law discriminated heavily against married women. Stringent standards restricted opportunities for women to pursue professional careers, while celebrating their roles as mothers and wives. During Franco's government, Spanish law prohibited wives from taking part in almost all forms of economic opportunity, including employment, ownership of property, or even travel, unless they had the consent of their husbands. These laws were known as permiso marital (marital permission) (Clark 1990). The government advocated a policy of perfecta casada (the perfect housewife) and angel del hogar (angel of the home), reaffirming women's subordinate roles within the family and in society at large. Women, for example, had to enroll in a six-month training program in preparation for motherhood (as cited in Sanchez and Hall 1999). Adultery during this time was a crime, as was abortion. Marriages also had to be canonical in nature. This meant that basically all marriages in Spain had to be sanctioned by the Catholic Church. Since the church did not allow divorce, the difficult process of annulment was the only means of dissolution (Clark 1990).

By the 1960s, social values were changing faster than the existing legal statutes allowed, creating tension between the legal codes and the growing social reality. Many scholars believe that these changes developed as a result of the economic exodus of hundreds of thousands of people from rural settings to new urban centers during that time. In addition, the increasing flow of European tourists to Spain as well as the migration of Spanish workers to other European countries dramatically changed Spain's isolation from the rest of the world (Clark 1990). Soon after Franco's death in 1975, the permiso marital was abolished, laws against adultery were cancelled in 1978, and divorce was legalized in 1981 (Clark 1990).

This growing shift in attitudes regarding family roles could be viewed as part of a larger ideological divide experienced by many countries during the industrialization process. The change is a shift from a traditional style of family, which is often hierarchical and patriarchal, to a secular definition, which is often more individualistic and egalitarian in style. A secular style questions the role of women as the primary familial caretaker and homekeeper and challenges hierarchical conceptions of men's and women's relationships (Sanchez and Hall 1999).

In Spain, as in many other countries, these two ideologies co-exist. At one level, Spaniards affirm the right of women to work outside the home, but they still expect women to carry most of the burden of childcare and housework. The same discrepancy is true when comparing the difference in pay between men and women. The average salary for women is only 75 to 80 percent of that of men, depending on the sector of the economy in which they participate. Nevertheless, the dramatic increase of women's participation in the labor markets has significantly challenged traditionalist notions of couple and family relationships.

Ines Alberdi, in her 1999 study of the Spanish family, attributes the growing secular trend to a changing ethic that encompasses the following factors. The first is a growing egalitarian ethic that encourages women to pursue professional jobs and increase participation in the decision-making process in the home. Traditionally, women normally followed values such as personal sacrifice of other goals in the interest of raising children. However, with the improvement in economic conditions and opportunities for professional advancement, the emphasis shifted from the struggle for economic survival to the pursuit of more meaningful and satisfying interpersonal relationships. Alberdi (1999) believes that there is the desire for individual liberty and the pursuit of personal happiness at the heart of this movement toward egalitarian relationships. Although from a general perspective, men and women agree on the benefits of more autonomy in their relationships, many couples have difficulties working out these roles because many men have not been socialized to function in this way. The result is a constant effort to negotiate and renegotiate their individual responsibilities within the relationship. This experience has left many couples questioning the need to increase additional responsibilities either by formalizing their relationship through marriage or by having children. Therefore, couples are delaying the age at which they marry and have children to have the opportunity to pursue their own individual relational and professional interests.

An increasing tolerance toward diverse family forms and patterns of interactions has also supported the development of secular trends in the society. The majority of Spaniards do not see any problems with cohabitation or having children outside the marital relationship. This shift in social expectations and norms has given couples more flexibility and less pressure to conform to traditional standards. As a result, couples are able to explore different types of living arrangements in response to different economic needs and educational opportunities (Alberdi 1999).

Spaniards, amidst all these changes, maintain a strong sense of family loyalty and solidarity. The traditional values of family obligation, similarity of interest, and sympathy for members of the group remain. The challenge, however, is in the application of these values in a society where individual families are increasingly separated from their extended families. Nevertheless, this value remains central to the way many families operate. For instance, a mother may take care of her daughter's children so her daughter can go to work or a grandparent may use part of a pension to help financially support unemployed younger members of the family. It is within this context of the search for individual liberty and desire to be part of the larger group that many Spanish families find themselves today (Alberdi 1999).

More Spaniards are less willing to postpone any opportunity for current happiness for a distant and uncertain future. As opposed to past decades, during which individuals would put aside short-term personal desires to reap the benefits of a better future, contemporary Spaniards are paying more attention to what is available to them in the present. Therefore, it is possible to understand how some of these demographic changes have taken place when considering the reinterpretation of the value of time as well as an increased desire for meaningful and satisfying emotional connections in their interpersonal relationships. These changes represent for many Spaniards new challenges and opportunities, as they attempt to define for themselves what family life will be like in the future.


Alberdi, I., ed. (1995). Informe sobre la situación de la familia en España (Report regarding the situation of the family in Spain). Madrid: Ministerios de Asuntos Sociales.

Alberdi, I. (1999). La nueva familia Española (The new Spanish family). Madrid: Taurus.

Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (Center for Sociological Investigations). (April 1994). Barómetro de Abril (April Barometer) Issue Brief No. 2.087. Madrid: Author.

Clark, R. P. (1990). "The Society and Its Environment: Social Values and Attitudes." In Spain: A Country Study, ed. E. Solsten and S. W. Meditz. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Federal Research Division.

Flaquer, L. (1998). El destino de la familia (The destiny of the family). Barcelona: Ariel.

Iglesias de Ussel, J. (1998). La familia y el cambio político en España (The family and political change in Spain). Madrid: Tecnos.

Miel Landwerlin, G. (1999). La Postmodernizacion de la familia Española (The Postmodernization of the Spanish family). Madrid: Acento.

Pérez-Díaz, V.; Chuliá, E.; and Valiente, C. (2000). La familia Española en el año 2000 (The Spanish family in the year 2000). Madrid: Fundación Argentaria—Visor Dis.

Sanchez, L., and Hall, C. S. (1999). "Traditional Values and Democratic Impulses: The Gender Division of Labor in Contemporary Spain." Journal of Comparative Family Studies 30(4):659–685.

Other Resources

European Communities. (2001). "First demographic estimates for 2000." Available from http://europa.eu. int/comm/eurostat.

European Communities. (2001). "First results of the demographic data collection for 1999 in Europe." Available from http://europa.eu.int/comm/eurostat.

European Communities. (2001). "First results of the demographic data collection for 2000 in Europe." Available from http://europa.eu.int/comm/eurostat.

U.S. Census Bureau. IDB Summary Demographic Data for Spain. Available from http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/ipc/idbsum?cty=SP.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsSpain - Demographic Trends, The Changing Attitudes In Spain