The economic growth and social development in Greece at the end of World War II, and especially since the 1960s, have changed the form and functioning of Greek society and the Greek family. These developments include massive international migration to the United States, Australia, Canada, and Western Europe, the exodus of rural residents to cities, and the considerable growth of the tourism industry.
The demographic profile of Greece is similar to that of other developed countries: a low birth rate and an increase in the proportion of elderly people. Fertility rates per 1,000 inhabitants are continuously falling in Greece: 18.9 in 1960, 16.5 in 1970, 15.4 in 1980, 10.7 in 1988, and 9.5 in 1998 (Statistical Year Book of Greece). According to the United Nations' population projection, Greece has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe (1990–1995). The average number (fertility rate) of children per woman between the ages of fifteen and forty-four in Greece was 1.32 in 1995. In all European countries, fertility rates in the same year were 1.43 children per woman. The fertility rates in urban and rural areas of Greece are now the same.
The following is a summary of demographic trends in Greece:
- The average life expectancy was 75.3 for men and 80.5 for women in 1998.
- Contraceptives, especially abortion, are used as methods to interrupt unwanted or unplanned pregnancies.
- Marriage and childbirth now occur later. In 1995 the mean age at which women gave birth to their first child was 28.2 years.
- Infant mortality is dramatically lower, due to improved health conditions for mothers and newborns. In 1960, infant mortality per 1,000 live births was as high as 40.1; in 1998, it was 6.6.
- Internal and international migration are significant factors. The majority of migrants are young people at their most productive age.
The drop in fertility rates, combined with the aging population, poses a serious problem for the country. The ratio of retired people to those who are economically active has increased: In 1977 there was one retired person for every 2.97 people of working age; in 1994 the ratio was 1: 2.09 (Moussourou 1995).
The nondemographic parameters that determine family size in Greece include family income, employment status and level of education of both parents, the status and living conditions of women, and women's labor market participation and their financial independence. Women have made great progress in the various professions and occupations in Greece. They made up 37 percent of the total work force in 1990. Women's employment, however, is not a new development. Women in Greece have always worked either in rural occupations or at home as hairdressers, as dressmakers, or in other service jobs while at the same time being in charge of the household. This type of work has been officially recorded. What is new is an increase in women's occupations that are outside the home.
Women's employment has been considered one of the main causes of low birth rates. Such an inference, though, should be viewed with caution because women who are not employed outside of the home also reported lower birth rates. Families' attitudes towards having a specific number of children are explained by many factors, particularly the economic status of the families. Other factors are industrialization and urbanization (Teperoglou and Tzortzopoulou 1996).
Family income matters not only because it guarantees a family's survival, but also because it determines the social position of the family. A survey by the Consumers' Institute (INKA) has found that a Greek needs to work 18.7 hours to purchase food that a German is able to buy with 9.5 hours of work or an English person with 11.2 hours. The same survey found that the average Greek family needed 378.000 drs ($1,595) per month in 1996 to have an acceptable standard of living (Moussourou 1996).
The incidence of divorce has increased since 1970. In that year the rate was 0.4 per one thousand inhabitants; in 1980, 0.7 per thousand; in 1990, 0.6 per thousand; and in 1995, 1.1 per thousand (Statistical Yearbook of Greece). The main reason is the reform of family law and the legalization of a new form of divorce: divorce by mutual consent, whereby either spouse is entitled to apply for the dissolution of the marriage. Prior to the 1980s, the structure of the Greek family was more traditional, and governments did not approve any initiative for the reform of family law. In the early 1980s reforms were undertaken, and Greek women felt psychologically more liberated to get divorced.