10 minute read

Argentina - Main Transformations In Argentine Society In The Second Half Of The Twentieth Century

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsArgentina - What Is Meant By Family? Proposed Definition, Main Transformations In Argentine Society In The Second Half Of The Twentieth Century

Main Transformations in Argentine Society in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century

Below are listed the main transformations that the Argentine society has undergone as of the second half of the twentieth century and that have had an impact on family structures and dynamics.

Autonomization processes and the end of the patriarchal family. One of the most significant changes is related to the emergence of processes of individualization and achievement of autonomy, first, in young generations and, second, of women. These processes are part of a movement towards the modernization of societies and are related to the loss of father's authority within the family.

The most outstanding feature of these processes is "the tendency of young people from middle and high sectors, mainly men, to live on their own, regardless of the process of forming a couple" ( Jelin 1994, p. 38).

However, this process of achieving autonomy has been affected by the economic crisis that started in the mid-1970s and the concurrent high level of unemployment among young people in Argentina—not being able to find a job or losing it "interrupts the expected progression towards young people['s] independence" (Allat and Yeandle 1992, p. 83).

Changes in women's situation. The condition of women in Argentine society experienced important changes throughout the twentieth century, This Argentinian family gathers for a Sunday dinner. Because of socioeconomic changes, family dynamics in Argentina have become more democratic and less patriarchal. PABLO CORRAL V/CORBIS most of which began in the 1960s. Women are now more involved in education, in the labor market, in politics and in other areas of social, cultural, and political life.

In turn, "due to technological changes linked to birth control and changes in interpersonal relations, the place of marriage as a privileged space for sexuality has also changed, as has the identification of sexuality with reproduction" ( Jelin 1994, p. 33).

Feminist movements also played an important part in leading women to question traditional roles and struggling to achieve equal rights for men and women. The legal system has formalized these changes by subsequently modifying the legal status of women within the family and society.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, Argentina experienced a deep economic crisis that led to a recession. This crisis had different effects on men and women. As a result of the recession more women entered the workforce, and there was a rise in unemployment for men, particularly for heads of households. Women whose participation in the labor market increased were those "married and cohabiting, mostly those whose partner was household head, and those who were relatively better educated, having a middle and in most cases, high level of formal education, i.e., society's middle and high sectors" (Wainerman and Geldstein 1994, p. 199). More divorced and separated women also entered the workforce.

Sociodemographic changes. The birth rate in Argentina began to drop at the end of the nineteenth century, as occurred in other industrialized nations. The birth rate had both increases and decreases through the twentieth century, but it stabilized as of 1982, affecting the reduction in the size of families. However, since 1970, there has been an increase in teenage fertility, primarily among lower-class women.

Another important change in sociodemographic indicators is an uninterrupted decrease in mortality rate during the second half of the twentieth century, mainly of women, together with an increase in life expectancy. This directly affects the potential duration of marital life, the probability of divorce and separation, and, certainly, of widowhood.

An overview of the main changes in family structures and dynamics that have taken place in Argentina in the last decades appears below.

Family structures. Table 1 shows the different lifestyles in Argentina at two different times: 1986 and 1997 (complete data from the Population and Households National Census conducted in 2001 is not yet available).

As shown on the table, the nuclear family is the most common household structure in Argentina. However, between 1986 and 1997, the number of nuclear families has decreased, compared to individual households, the number of which increased. The same is true with extended and compound families, but to a lesser extent. However, research (2001) by the Information, Evaluation and Monitoring System of Social Programs of the Ministry of Social Development showed that in that year, the percentage of extended and compound families increased by 15 percent, with a tendency to further increase as a result of Argentina's economic crisis.

This heterogeneous overview also shows differences within each of the categories. Although the number of complete nuclear families has increased, this group includes legal marriages, common-law marriages, and reconstituted families (families formed in a second, subsequent union, often involving children of previous unions). At the same time, it also includes complete families, couples, and one-parent households (mainly mothers living with their children).

Extended or compound families are also diverse. Generally, they are households in which the head, her/his partner, and unmarried children reside with other people, whether relatives or not. TABLE 1

TABLE 1 Types of households and families in Argentina
Types of households and families 1986 1997
SOURCE: Based on data collected from Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos. Household Surveys Initiative (MECOVI).
Individual 11.3 % 15.3 %
Nuclear 71.9 % 65.9 %
Extended and compound 12.7 % 13.7 %
Without nucleus 4.1 % 4.7 %

Two-thirds of these households are from low social strata and one-third from middle-class families.

One-person households also show differences: among the young, individual men living by themselves are most common, while among the elderly, separated women and widows are more common.

These diverse family structures reflect a set of changes that have taken place in Argentina during the second half of the twentieth century regarding guidelines for family formation, and which can be summarized as follows:

  • An increase in common-law marriages and a decrease in legal marriages.
  • Common-law marriages increased in all age sectors. In terms of socioeconomic status, however, they have increased among the youngest in low sectors and among older people in high sectors.
  • An increase in the age in which the first marriage takes place, whether common-law or legal.
  • Family formation standards differ between sexes and among social strata. Men get married—whether legally or by common-law—at an older age, mainly, in higher social sectors. In contrast, women marry at younger ages, but they follow the pattern described for starting a family, mainly those who are more educated. Couples who are legally married are less likely to have children, and if they do, they do so at an older age.
  • An increase in the number of children born out of wedlock.
  • An increase in the number of separations.
  • An increase in the number of reconstituted families, families without children, and female-headed families.
  • An increase of one-person households, more as a consequence of marriage break-ups than of failure to marry (Wainerman and Geldstein 1994).
  • Nuclear families, while decreasing in number, are still the most frequent household type. However, these families' characteristics have changed; many of them are common-law marriages or reconstituted families. The size of these families is smaller, and they tend to be unstable.

Family dynamics in Argentina. Most of the research on family dynamics is conducted from a qualitative and microsocial approach. It contributes evidence of important trends in family dynamics, most of which are the result of the economic crisis and the high unemployment rates. They are:

  • The emergence of new income providers in households, which implies that men are no longer the only—nor, frequently, the main— provider of family income.
  • An increase in the number of female-headed households.
  • Changes in patterns of domestic life. Although women's work outside the home does not necessarily result in a reorganization of tasks within households (existence of a double working day), it has in some cases led to a new awareness on the part of women and a more equitable distribution of power in the family environment. When, at the same time, men are out of work for a prolonged period of time, women's outside employment may have different consequences, such as the reorganization of tasks and loss of authority or conflicts, the effects of which may include domestic violence or marital separation.
  • Crisis and unemployment seem to have different effects on men and women. Women seem to manage crises better, implementing a set of strategies for the survival of the family group. At the same time, they are the ones that absorb more of the effects of the crisis, regarding both the redistribution of responsibilities and their role of protection and emotional support (Merlinsky 2001; Sagot; and Schmukler 2001).
  • A marked increase in the number of poor families—according to data from research (2001) by the Information, Evaluation and Monitoring System of Social Programs of the Ministry of Social Development, almost half of Argentine households are poor.

In summary, the beginning of the twenty-first century brought new standards for family formation. They include different domestic arrangements and changes in both male and female gender-linked behavior and attitudes, which can be interpreted as a tendency towards democratization of family bonds—there is clearly a greater equality between men and women, as well as a fairer distribution of tasks and power within families. According to Beatriz Schmukler (2001), this trend is part of a broader democratizing process at a sociopolitical level.

At the beginning of the third millenium, Argentina faces great diversity in family life. Family formation and dissolution vary according to social sectors, gender, and area of residence. These changes, however, should not be interpreted as a crisis of the family institution or as evidence of its disappearance, in spite of the evident loss of its social functions ( Jelin 1994). Marital unions survive, although they are less stable and less formal (Wainerman and Geldstein 1994).

Research findings by CEPAL (1994) suggest that different types of families can look after the well-being of their members and contribute to fair and democratic family development, provided there is a family project, that is, a common life plan in which goals and priorities are established. At a time of a deep social, political, and economic crisis, family life will adapt.



Agnés, M., and Barrére, M. (1999). La división familiar del trabajo. La vida doble. Buenos Aires: Editorial Lumen/Humanitas.

Allat, P., and Yeandle, S. (1992). Youth Unemployment and the Family. Voices of Disordered Times, London: Routledge.

Borsotti, C. (1981). La organización social de la reproducción de los agentes sociales, las unidades familiares y sus estrategias. Buenos Aires: CENEP.

CEPAL. (1994). Familia y Futuro. Author: Santiago de Chile.

Colombo, G., and Palermo, A. (1994). Madres de sectores populares y escuela. Buenos Aires: CEPAL.

Chapp, M., and Palermo, A. (1994). Autoridad y roles sexuales en la familia y la escuela. Buenos Aires: CEAL.

Geldstein, R. (1994). Los roles de fénero en la crisis. Mujeres como principal sostén económico del hogar. Buenos Aires: CENEP.

Gil Lozano, F.; Pita, V.; Ini, M. (2000). Historia de las mujeres en la Argentina. Siglo XX. Buenos Aires: Taurus. Instituto nacional de estadistica y censos. Household Surveys Initiative (MECOVI).

ISIS Mudar. (1988). Mujeres, crisis y movimientos. Santiago: ISIS International.

Jelin, E. (1994). "Familia: Crisis y después." In Vivir en Familia. Buenos Aires: Losada.

Jelin, E., and Feijoó, M. del C. (1980). Trabajo y familia en el ciclo de vida femenino. El caso de los sectores populares de Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires: CEDES.

Levi Strauss, C. (1976). "La familia." In Polémica sobre el origen y universalidad de la familia. Barcelona: Anagrama.

López Hernández, G.; Loira Saviñón, C.; and Cervera, J. (1995). Familias con futuro. Derecho a una sociedad más justa. México, D.F.: Grupo de Educación Popular con Mujeres.

Merlinsky, M. G. (2001). "Desocupación y crisis en las imágenes de género." In Mujeres en América Latina transformando la vida. San José, Costa Rica: Universidad de Costa Rica.

Palermo, A. (2001). "La educación universitaria de la mujer. Entre las reivindicaciones y las realizaciones." In Revista alternativas. Serie historia y prácticas pedagógicas. Año III, No. 3:175–191. San Luis, Argentina: Publicación Internacional del LAE.

Schmukler, B., and Di Marco, G. (1997). Las madres y la democratización de la familia en la Argentina contemporánea. Buenos Aires: Biblos.

Schmukler, B., coordinator. (1999). Familias y relaciones de género en transformación. México, D.F.: Edamax, S.A. de C.V. y The Population Council, Inc.

Torrado, S. (1993). Procreación en la Argentina. Hechos e ideas. Buenos Aires: Edición de la Flor.

Wainerman, C., and Geldstein, R. (1994). "Viviendo en familia: Ayer y Hoy." In Vivir en familia. Buenos Aires: Losada.

Other Resource

Arriagada, I. (1999). "¿Nuevas Familias para un nuevo siglo?" In Revista de la CEPAL No. 65. Available from http://www.socwatch.org.uy/2000/esp/tematicos/nuevasfamilias.htm.


Additional topics