Portugal retained a traditional hierarchical social structure well into modern times. For much of the 20th century, Portuguese society was dominated by a small, wealthy upper class. Wealth and power, based mainly on land ownership, was largely inherited; social mobility was limited. A large lower class was composed mainly of peasants and manual laborers. For the lower class, work began at an early age, and little time was given to education. Portugal’s middle class, made up of merchants, bureaucrats, and artisans, remained small and politically weak.
The Roman Catholic Church retained its influential status, especially in rural areas, where priests held important roles in education, government administration, and social life. During Portugal’s 1974 revolution, the old social order was overthrown, and many of the social elite fled the country. Political parties emerged that promised reforms, and by the late 1970s a number of important changes had occurred. Many workers joined labor unions, land reforms divided extensive holdings in the countryside, and a variety of industries were nationalized. At the same time, thousands of immigrants from Portugal’s former colonies increased the country’s cultural and ethnic diversity.
Changes in Portugal’s social structure in the 1980s were driven by continued economic growth and by Portugal’s acceptance into the European Community (EC), a forerunner of the European Union (EU). Portugal’s growing economic and cultural links with Europe and the world encouraged greater social mobility and rising expectations among the lower classes. By the mid-1990s, a significantly larger, more prosperous middle class had emerged. Accompanying this growth were improvements in health, education, and welfare, and an expansion in civil liberties. Together, these factors have increased opportunities for many Portuguese. "Portugal" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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