Spain Table of Contents

After the restoration of democracy, the changes in everyday Spanish life were as radical as the political transformation. These changes were even more striking when contrasted with the values and social practices that had prevailed in Spanish society during the Franco years, especially during the 1940s and the early 1950s. In essence, Spanish social values and attitudes were modernized at the same pace, and to the same degree, as the country's class structure, economic institutions, and political framework.

To say that Spanish social values under Franco were conservative would be a great understatement. Both public laws and church regulations enforced a set of social strictures aimed at preserving the traditional role of the family, distant and formal relations between the sexes, and controls over expression in the press, film, and the mass media, as well as over many other important social institutions. By the 1960s, however, social values were changing faster than the law, inevitably creating tension between legal codes and reality. Even the church had begun to move away from its more conservative positions by the latter part of the decade. The government responded haltingly to these changes with some new cabinet appointments and with somewhat softer restrictions on the media. Yet underneath these superficial changes, Spanish society was experiencing wrenching changes as its people came increasingly into contact with the outside world. To some extent, these changes were due to the rural exodus that had uprooted hundreds of thousands of Spaniards and had brought them into new urban social settings. In the 1960s and the early 1970s, however, two other contacts were also important: the flow of European tourists to "sunny Spain" and the migration of Spain's workers to jobs in France, Switzerland, and West Germany.

One of the most powerful influences on Spanish social values has been the country's famous "industry without smokestacks"-- tourism. In the years before the Civil War, tourists numbered only about one quarter of a million, and it took more than a decade after World War II for them to discover Spain's climate and low prices. When they finally did, the trickle of tourists became a flood. The leading countries sending tourists to Spain were France, Portugal, Britain, and West Germany. Of course tourists brought much more than British pounds or German deutsche marks; they also brought the democratic political and social values of northern Europe.

The other population flow that affected Spanish cultural values involved Spanish workers who returned from having worked in the more industrialized and more liberal countries of Western Europe. The exact number of returning migrants fluctuated greatly from year to year, depending on economic conditions in Spain and in the rest of Europe. The peak period was 1965 to 1969, when more than 550,000 returned; but nearly 750,000 returned during the decade of the 1970s. The return flow ebbed somewhat during the 1980s, when only about 20,000 came back per year. The principal problems encountered by these returning Spaniards were both economic (finding another job) and cultural (what the Spanish refer to as "social reinsertion," or becoming accustomed again to the Spanish ways of doing things). Many of the returnees came back with a small sum of money that they invested in a small business or shop, from which they hoped to advance up the economic ladder. Above all, they brought back with them the cultural habits and tastes of France, West Germany, and Switzerland, contributing thereby to the cultural transformation of post-Franco Spain.

Outsiders who still thought of Spain as socially restrained and conservative were surprised to note the public changes in sexual attitudes in the country since the late 1970s. Once state censorship was relaxed on magazines and films in 1976 and in 1978, the market for pornography flourished. In a country where Playboy was outlawed until 1976, ten years later this and other foreign "adult" magazines were already considered tame and were outsold by domestic magazines. Throughout Spain's large cities, uncensored sex films were readily available in government-licensed theaters, and prostitutes and brothels freely advertised their services in even the most serious press. Despite these attention-getting changes in public attitudes, however, Spanish government policy for some years remained quite distant from social practice in two important areas related to private sexual behavior, contraception and abortion.

During the Franco years, the ban on the sale of contraceptives was complete, at least in theory, even though the introduction of the pill had brought artificial contraception to at least half a million Spanish women by 1975. The ban on the sale of contraceptives was lifted in 1978, but no steps were taken to ensure that they were used safely or effectively. Schools offered no sex education courses, and family planning centers existed only where local authorities were willing to pay for them. The consequence of a loosening of sexual restraints, combined with a high level of ignorance about the technology that could be substituted in their place, was a rise in the number of unwanted pregnancies, which led to the second policy problem--abortion.

Illegal abortions were fairly commonplace in Spain even under the dictatorship. A 1974 government report estimated that there were about 300,000 such abortions each year. Subsequently, the number rose to about 350,000 annually, which gave Spain one of the highest ratios of abortions to live births among advanced industrial countries. Abortion continued to be illegal in Spain until 1985, three years after the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol--PSOE) came to power on an electoral platform that promised a change. Even so, the law legalized abortions only in certain cases: pregnancy resulting from rape, which must be reported to the authorities prior to the abortion; reasonable probability of a malformed fetus, attested to by two doctors; or to save the mother's life, again in the opinion of two physicians. In the 1980s, this was as far as public opinion would permit the state to go; surveys showed that a clear majority of the electorate remained opposed to abortion on demand.

Perhaps the most significant change in Spanish social values, however, involved the role of women in society, which, in turn, was related to the nature of the family. Spanish society, for centuries, had embraced a code of moral values that established stringent standards of sexual conduct for women (but not for men); restricted the opportunities for professional careers for women, but honored their role as wives and (most important) mothers; and prohibited divorce, contraception, and abortion, but permitted prostitution. After the return of democracy, the change in the status of women was dramatic. One significant indicator was the changing place of women in the work force. In the traditional Spanish world, women rarely entered the job market. By the late 1970s, however, 22 percent of the country's adult women, still somewhat fewer than in Italy and in Ireland, had entered the work force. By 1984 this figure had increased to 33 percent, a level not significantly different from Italy or the Netherlands. Women still made up less than one-third of the total labor force, however, and in some important sectors, such as banking, the figure was closer to one-tenth. A 1977 opinion poll revealed that when asked whether a woman's place was in the home only 22 percent of young people in Spain agreed, compared with 26 percent in Britain, 30 percent in Italy, and 37 percent in France. The principal barrier to women in the work place, however, was not public opinion, but rather such factors as a high unemployment rate and a lack of part-time jobs. In education, women were rapidly achieving parity with men, at least statistically. In 1983, approximately 46 percent of Spain's university enrollment was female, the thirty-first highest percentage in the world, and comparable to most other European countries.

During Franco's years, Spanish law discriminated strongly against married women. Without her husband's approval, referred to as the permiso marital, a wife was prohibited from almost all economic activities, including employment, ownership of property, or even travel away from home. The law also provided for less stringent definitions of such crimes as adultery and desertion for husbands than it did for wives. Significant reforms of this system were begun shortly before Franco's death, and they have continued at a rapid pace since then. The permiso marital was abolished in 1975; laws against adultery were cancelled in 1978; and divorce was legalized in 1981. During the same year, the parts of the civil code that dealt with family finances were also reformed.

During the Franco years, marriages had to be canonical (that is, performed under Roman Catholic law and regulations) if even one of the partners was Catholic, which meant effectively that all marriages in Spain had to be sanctioned by the church. Since the church prohibited divorce, a marriage could be dissolved only through the arduous procedure of annulment, which was available only after a lengthy series of administrative steps and was thus accessible only to the relatively wealthy. These restrictions were probably one of the major reasons for a 1975 survey result showing that 71 percent of Spaniards favored legalizing divorce; however, because the government remained in the hands of conservatives until 1982, progress toward a divorce law was slow and full of conflict. In the summer of 1981, the Congress of Deputies (lower chamber of the Cortes, or Spanish Parliament) finally approved a divorce law with the votes of about thirty Union of the Democratic Center (Union de Centro Democratico--UCD) deputies who defied the instructions of party conservatives. As a consequence, Spain had a divorce law that permitted the termination of a marriage in as little as two years following the legal separation of the partners. Still, it would be an exaggeration to say that the new divorce law opened a floodgate for the termination of marriages. Between the time the law went into effect at the beginning of September 1981, and the end of 1984, only slightly more than 69,000 couples had availed themselves of the option of ending their marriages, and the number declined in both 1983 and 1984. There were already more divorced people than this in Spain in 1981 before the law took effect.

Despite these important gains, observers expected that the gaining of equal rights for women would be a lengthy struggle, waged on many different fronts. It was not until deciding a 1987 case, for example, that Spain's Supreme Court held that a rape victim need not prove that she had fought to defend herself in order to verify the truth of her allegation. Until that important court case, it was generally accepted that a female rape victim, unlike the victims of other crimes, had to show that she had put up "heroic resistance" in order to prove that she had not enticed the rapist or otherwise encouraged him to attack her.

Another important sign of cultural change involved the size and the composition of the family. To begin with, the marriage rate (the number of marriages in proportion to the adult population) has declined steadily since the mid-1970s. After holding steady at 7 per 1,000 or more for over 100 years, the marriage rate declined to about 5 per 1,000 in 1982, a level observed in West Germany and in Italy only a few years earlier. Fewer people were marrying in Spain, and the family structure was changing dramatically as well. In 1970, of the 8.8 million households recorded in the census, 59 percent consisted of small nuclear families of two to five persons, 15 percent were somewhat larger nuclear families that included other relatives as well as guests, and 10.6 percent were households of unrelated individuals who had no nuclear family. Large families of more than three children were only 9 percent of the total. In a 1975 municipal survey that dealt only with families, the following results were registered: couples without children constituted 16 percent of all families; and two-children families made up 34 percent of the total. Although the number of family units increased more than 20 percent between 1970 and 1981, the average size of the family decreased by about 10 percent, from 3.8 persons to 3.5. The typical extended family of traditional societies (three generations of related persons living in the same household) hardly appeared at all in the census data. Clearly, that characteristic of Spanish cultural values was a thing of the past.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress