Historically, the family has been an extremely important institution in Spain, as one would expect in a society which for so long was traditional, Catholic and hierarchical. During the Franco regime, the family was enshrined in basic legislation as one of the "organic" institutions of the state, and between 1945 and 1958, the position of male head of the family (cabeza de familia) was given legal status. From the late 1960s, heads of families formed one of the colleges for the controlled elections to the parliament. Family planning was illegal (though increasingly practised during the 1960s), and there were special bonuses payable to large families, and even prizes (premios de natalidad) for exceptionally large numbers of children.
   Despite the speed of modernization in structures and attitudes since the late 1970s, the family is still very influential. Some 80 percent of respondents to surveys in the 1990s declared that the family was the most important element in their lives, and the strength of family loyalties can lead to nepotism and corruption. Though there has been a decrease in the number of marriages, from 7.36 per thousand in 1970 to 5.59 in 1991, this is accounted for partly by the tendency to postpone marriage, and for young people in Spain to stay on in the parental home later than elsewhere in Europe. In the 1970s, the average age of marriage was 24 for women and 26 for men, but in the 1990s these figures have risen to 26 and 28 respectively. Cohabitation has become increasingly common since the 1970s, but in all but a very small minority of cases, it is followed by marriage. Though the proportion of births to single parents increased by a factor of eight between 1970 and 1990, from just over 1 percent to 9 percent, this figure is still low by comparison with most European countries. Despite the availability of legal divorce since 1981, divorce rates, at ten percent of marriages, are also low. This is not to say that nothing has changed, for even during the Franco era, family size declined for economic reasons during the 1940s and 1950s. This trend increased throughout the 1960s and 1970s owing to the increased, though unofficial, availability of contraception, better levels of education, and improvements in the status and independence of women through greater employment opportunities. From a level of just over three children per household in the 1950s, the average had gone down by the second half of the 1980s to 1.2. Another departure from traditional patterns is the decrease in the number of elderly people living with married offspring. In the early 1990s, slightly over one in five persons over 65 were living in extended families: twenty years earlier, nearly three-quarters did so. That the family unit in Spain, though comparatively stable and solid by the standards of some other countries, is coming under the kind of pressures experienced elsewhere is suggested by the increasing evidence presented in the media of wife-battering, even murder, as well as cruelty and sexual abuse of children. The sacro-sanct status which the family has enjoyed in the past, indeed, may well make it more difficult for public agencies to deal with this kind of problem.
   Further reading
   - Hooper, J. (1995) The New Spaniards, Harmondsworth: Penguin (chapters 11 and 12 give an excellent overview of the issues connected with family life).
   - Lawlor, T., Rigby, M. et al. (1998) Contemporary Spain, London and New York: Longman (pp. 304–8 contain a useful digest of relevant statistics).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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