Spain Table of Contents

Spain in the 1980s possessed a socioeconomic class structure typical of countries entering the advanced stage of industrialization. In general terms, society was becoming more differentiated along class, occupational, and professional lines, with an expanding middle class and a decreasing proportion of rural poor. Although Spain had not yet reached the degree of social differentiation seen in other advanced industrial democracies in Western Europe, it was clearly moving in the same direction. As in other areas, however, Spain was modernizing in a distinctly Iberian style, retaining some important social characteristics from an earlier era.

By the mid-1980s, the structure of Spain's economy had come increasingly to resemble that of most other West European countries, as evidenced by changes in the distribution of its work force. Throughout the twentieth century there was a steady decline in the proportion of workers employed in agriculture and other primary sectors (from 60.4 percent of the work force in 1900 to 14.4 percent in 1981); a gradual increase in the proportion employed in the services sector (from 15.1 percent to 40.4); and an increase in the proportion employed in industry and construction, until the 1970s when the percentage leveled off and even declined slightly (13.6 percent in 1900, to 37.4 percent in 1970, then 35.3 percent in 1981). (The residual percentages are accounted for by "other" and "unclassified" economic activities.) Changes were especially dramatic during the fifteen-year period from 1965 to 1980. According to a 1983 study, the Spanish work force consisted of 15 percent in agriculture, 33 percent in industry, 25 percent in non-information-related services, and 27 percent in the information sector (compared with 40 percent in the United States and 30 percent or more in West Germany, in France, and in Britain).

There were, however, worrisome signs that certain key sectors of the work force had not kept pace with the country's transition to advanced industrial status. In 1980 administrative and managerial workers, the key to guiding a complex industrial economy, constituted a tiny portion--only 1.3 percent--of Spain's work force, which put Spain on a par with Uruguay and Brazil. Professional and technical workers, the sector relied upon to provide basic and applied research for a country's industrial base, constituted only 5.9 percent of the work force, which placed Spain on about the same level as Mexico and the Philippines. In both cases, among West European nations, Spain was close to only Greece and Portugal. The rest of Western Europe was still far ahead in these crucial areas. Changes in Spain's economic structure have been reflected in class structure changes as well. By 1970 Spanish sociologist Amando de Miguel had reported that the country's occupation structure was dominated by a growing middle (including upper-middle) class of administrators, service personnel, and clerical workers. On the basis of the 1970 census, de Miguel found that fully 40 percent of Spain's working population was employed in the category of "nonmanual and service workers"; the country's industrial labor force, or blue collar-workers, constituted 35 percent of the work force; the rural workers (including employed farm workers, day workers, and farm owners) accounted for 25 percent (still high by West European standards). The occupational structure differed markedly among Spain's various regions. In the more industrial, urbanized north and northeast (the Basque Country and Catalonia), white-collar service and administrative workers made up about 45 percent of the work force; industrial blue collar workers, about 47 percent; and rural workers, about 8 percent. In the more traditional rural and agrarian south and west of the country (Andalusia and Extremadura), the relative percentages were 35 percent white-collar, 30 percent blue-collar, and 35 percent rural. A decade later, American political scientists Richard Gunther, Giacomo Sani, and Goldie Shabad studied the class implications of the 1979 Spanish elections and discovered, first, that the country's class structure had become more differentiated in the preceding decade, and second, that the upper and middle classes had grown in size, while the urban and rural working classes had contracted. Gunther and his associates found that 12.6 percent of their respondents classified themselves in the highest status group (entrepreneurs, professionals, large landowners, etc.), an increase from 5.2 percent in the de Miguel study. Another 36.3 percent could be classified as upper-middle class (these in technical professions, small businessmen, mid-level public and private employees), up from 15.4 percent in 1970; and 16.3 percent fell within the lower-middle class category (sales and supervisory personnel and small farmers), down from 21.8 percent a decade earlier. Thus, the number included in the general category of middle class rose from about one-third of the work force to about one-half in a decade. As a percentage of the total, blue-collar workers and rural farm workers fell from about 60 percent in 1970 to only 33.3 percent in Gunther's 1979 study.

Later studies, using less precisely differentiated categories, found that many Spaniards continued to classify themselves as working class people regardless of the color of their collar. In one 1979 study, done by American political scientists Peter McDonough and Samuel Barnes and their Spanish colleague Antonio Lopez Pina, 48 percent of their respondents classified themselves as "working class"; 36 percent, as "low-middle"; and 16 percent, as "middle-high." In a 1984 study, these same three researchers reported that self-classified working-class respondents were 55.9 percent of the sample, middle class people were 33 percent, and upper-class subject were 11.1 percent. Allowing for a considerable degree of overlap and ambiguity in answers across surveys, particularly in aggregating the responses for working class and lower-middle class into a single statistic, it still seems clear that Spanish society had become more middle class and less poor over the decade and a half between 1970 and 1985.

Data on class structure from 1984 have been analyzed in a study by Spanish sociologists Salustiano del Campo and Manuel Navarro, who divided the Spanish work force into two broad groups: salaried employees, constituting approximately 68 percent of the work force, and owners, managers and professionals, making up about 31 percent. The first group was further divided into nonmanual and service workers, who accounted for about 34 percent of the work force, and blue-collar workers, who also constituted approximately 34 percent. The second group had the categories of capitalist business class, with about 5 percent of the work force, and the liberal professional class (e.g., attorneys), and self-employed small business owners, merchants and small farmers, who accounted for approximately 27 percent.

Although Spaniards experienced many of the same social and class cleavages that occurred in other advanced industrial societies, they retained a distinctive commitment to greater income equality, an egalitarian value that stands out in comparison with their wealthier and more industrialized neighbors. In a 1985 study, McDonough, Barnes, and Lopez Pina asked their respondents, "Do you think there should be a great deal of difference, some difference, or almost no difference in how much people in different occupations earn?" The proportions of respondents answering "a great difference" were 3 percent from the working class, 4 percent from the middle class, and 7 percent from the upper class, compared with 26 percent, 32 percent and 49 percent from comparable classes in the United States. Thus, McDonough and his colleagues call our attention to "the salient fact [of] the high level of egalitarian/populist expectations in Spain. The pattern is understandable in light of the poverty which for many Spaniards is not a vicarious memory and in view, as well, of the paternalistic legacy of Latin Catholicism. On the one hand, then, economic and social issues are probably not as conflict-ridden as caricatures of Spanish politics imply-- relative to the symbolic-moral issues, for example. On the other hand, the public seems to entertain high expectations about the benefits and social equity to be delivered by the government."

According to data from 1980 and 1981, Spain's household income was distributed in the following pattern: the poorest quintile of the population received 6.9 percent; the second poorest, 12.5; the middle quintile, 17.3; the fourth quintile, 23.2; the richest quintile, 40.0; and the richest decile, 24.5. The ratio between the richest and the poorest quintiles was 5.8:1, a fairly equitable distribution pattern compared with other advanced industrial West European democracies. The Spanish pattern of income distribution did not differ dramatically from that of advanced welfare states like Sweden or Denmark. The crucial difference was, of course, that in those countries there was much more income to distribute. Outside Spain's urban areas, in the small and mid-sized towns where more than a quarter of the country's population still lived, there were two distinctive models of class structure and conflict. In the small villages of Castile and the north, where land was more evenly distributed, and where the land was worked by its owners, social cleavages were much less acute, and class conflict was much less strident. There, the sense of community was reinforced by the still-powerful forces of kinship and religion. Moreover, modernization, principally by raising the salaries of laborers and by diminishing the gap in material possessions between rich and poor, had erased the few class or status differences that had existed previously. As the ownership of automobiles, refrigerators, and television sets spread to practically the entire population, upper-class status became largely meaningless in these small villages.

In the larger agro-towns of the south, however, a totally different picture was found. In Andalusia, land was distributed in a highly unequal way and the land was worked principally by day laborers who owned no land and who seldom even lived on it. In these towns, class structure was very sharply delineated and class conflict was aggressive and often violent. Traditional values of kinship and religion failed to diffuse these conflicts, and the towns and villages were held together by what anthropologist David Gilmore calls the "coercive integration" imposed by external forces, primarily the government in Madrid.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress