The family (familia) is the most important aspect of most Spaniard’s lives. Spaniards tend to manage their personal problems through their family, relying on relatives (parientes) for support when in difficult situations. This family network of support was particularly crucial during the financial crisis and recession when many Spaniards lost their jobs. Some people had to move back into their family home after years of independent living.
Spain has one of the lowest birthrates in Europe. Some Spaniards attribute this to a lack of commitment to long-term relationships as well as financial instability. However, most couples generally aim to have children if they can. Traditionally, Spanish families have been focused on the social and interpersonal aspects of child development. For example, Spanish children generally do not have a set bedtime as is common in the English-speaking West. Pre-teen children are usually allowed to stay up late with their parents and parents’ friends at restaurants long past 10pm. They often play with the children of other families whilst their parents socialise.
Spanish households are becoming smaller and the family structure is changing with modernity and urbanisation. However, family members generally seek to live in close proximity to each other where possible. Today, thestructure is the common living arrangement in Spain – this being a household comprising a couple and their unmarried children. Spanish children may live with their parents longer than what is common in the English-speaking West, sometimes into their 30s and 40s. This cultural pattern reflects the closeness of family relationships; however, it is often necessitated now by the high cost of living and economic struggles faced by younger generations in Spain over the past decade.
Generally, once a child has met a long-term partner, they will seek to move out of their parents’ home. There is a Spanish saying that "casado casa quiere" (a married person wants a house). This refers to young couples wanting their own privacy and space once they are in a committed relationship. This aspiration can literally include homeownership, but not necessarily.
Sometimes three generations may live together with grandparents moving in to help with raising children. However, many elderly people in Spain are quite independent. It is common for them to live alone (or as a couple) and receive visits from children, other relatives or friends often throughout the week. Elderly Spaniards also often know many locals throughout their town or neighbourhood that they may see at plazas or during their daily errands. It is very uncommon for families to put elderly relatives in retirement villages or old-age care homes. If someone is in need of daily care, they usually move in with other members of the family.
Traditionally, men are the primary income earners while women are responsible for domestic duties and raising children. This division of roles still prevails, particularly in rural areas. Responsibilities relating to children remain largely the women’s task (e.g. dropping them off at school, parent-teacher interviews, etc.). Women may be judged by their domestic ability to some degree. For example, a mother may judge her son’s new girlfriend by her culinary skill or whether or not she offered to help around the house. However, today the majority of Spanish women are in the workforce and have their own career in conjunction with their household duties.
These standards are fading with every generation. Indeed, they have already changed rapidly in the past few decades. It is becoming increasingly common for couples to share the domestic roles. For example, more Spanish men are taking a more dominant domestic role as stay-at-home dads.
However, Spanish culture continues to carry some sexist undertones. Stereotypes that depict women as beautiful and unintelligent are quite popular in Spain, and catcalling or wolf-whistling is common. While ‘machismo’ is not as strong in Spain as it is in, this cultural phenomenon somewhat influences gender roles. Men are expected to have a large sexual appetite, so while infidelity is not accepted or encouraged, it is somewhat thought to be inevitable on their behalf. Meanwhile, women are expected to be more virtuous and loyal to their husbands.
Dating and Marriage
Spanish youth may begin dating as early as 13 years old, but these relationships tend not to be serious. Teenagers tend to meet at school and socialise in groups. Common places to socialise and go on dates include cafes, parks and beaches. As people get older, the interest in prospective partners gets more serious. However, Spaniards may take a long time to commit to one relationship.
In urban areas, couples may live together for years before getting married. Some may choose not to marry and remain living in de facto relationships. The number of consensual unions in this arrangement doubled from 5.9% of total couples in 2001 to 14.5% in 2011.1 The average age of first marriage has risen steadily over the past few decades to 33.2 years old in 2013. A growing number of couples are also choosing to marry in civil ceremonies as opposed to religious ceremonies.
Divorce was legalised in Spain in 1981. Religious beliefs around this matter have become more relaxed since. Divorce and remarriage are now common. At the time of the 2011 Spanish census, 56.5% of the adult population was married and 5.8% were divorced.2 Same-sex marriage was also legalised in 2005. According to the Spanish National Statistics Institute, over 2 million marriages have been performed for same-sex couples since.
1 Spanish National Institute of Statistics, 2015
2 Spanish National Institute of Statistics, 2015