Portugal Social Condition Facts

Social conditions

The serious economic crisis of recent years has caused both the middle class and poor Portuguese to see their standard of living decline. Real wages have fallen and social security systems have been eroded, while unemployment has risen rapidly. However, some recovery has taken place, among other things, unemployment has again decreased. The Socialist government, which took office at the end of 2015, has sought to restore certain social benefits (see Finance).

Before the 1974 revolution Portugal was a backward corner of Europe with widespread poverty, illiteracy and high child mortality. Even today, compared to other western countries, Portugal is a poor country with large regional variations in social and economic standards. The difference in income distribution between the richest and the poorest is one of the largest in the EU.

Most residents of the capital Lisbon, while the inland to the north is most disadvantaged. Almost a quarter of Portugal’s population lives in relative poverty, which means they earn less than € 350 a month.

portugal population

Deficiencies in social security networks

Sickness compensation exists, as does the right to parental leave. Opportunities for social assistance, unemployment benefits, disability benefits and more are limited. For example, almost six out of ten unemployed people are not expected to receive any unemployment benefit, and the social security contributions that are paid are not enough to keep contributions above the poverty line. Family ties are strong and family is often the resource to be trusted when society’s social protection fails.

Basic health care is free of charge for everyone living in the country, but it is inefficient and neglected in European dimensions. The waiting times are often long. The savings requirements that arose during the economic crisis in the 2000s (see Finance) have meant that several health centers and care units have been merged. The privately owned alternatives to public health care have become more numerous, but only one tenth of the population is estimated to have access to private health insurance. Child mortality is still one of the highest in Europe.

An aging population means that pensions are a growing expenditure item in the state budget. In order to rectify the problem, the compensation levels have been lowered and the retirement age increased. The Portuguese are also encouraged to continue working even after they reach retirement age. The basic rule is that old-age pensions are paid from the age of 65 to people who have worked for at least 15 years of their life, but for those who have never been employed there is also a form of pension.

The situation for women, children and LGBTQ people

Although the constitution guarantees gender equality, Portuguese society is still male-dominated. Today, however, more than half of women are employed, compared with just over a tenth in 1960, and in 2015, almost a third of MPs were women. At the same time, women’s wages are generally lower than men’s and unemployment among women is higher than among men.

Abortion was previously only allowed in exceptional cases: when the mother’s life was in danger, in severe birth defects and in the case of rape. Following a 2007 referendum, the law was amended to allow abortion during the first ten weeks of a pregnancy. Every third Portuguese woman has been subjected to domestic violence.

Prostitution is allowed, but it is illegal to engage in prostitution and human trafficking or to force anyone into prostitution. Many prostitutes in Portugal originate in Brazil, Eastern Europe or Africa.

The rights of the children have become increasingly prominent in recent years. Primary school and health care are free of charge for all children. Portuguese must be 16 years before they are allowed to work and 18 years to take up defense. Despite the ban, child labor exists in agriculture, in shoe and textile factories, on construction and in the hotel industry, although there has been a decline in recent years.

The nuclear family dominates throughout the country, but in northern Portugal, some still live in large families with several generations.

Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is prohibited by law, but still exists. Same-sex marriage became legal in 2010. Six years later, two people of the same sex were allowed to raise children through adoption. In 2016, women in same-sex couples were also allowed to have assisted conception.

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drug use, with a view to curbing widespread heroin abuse. Instead, efforts would be put in place to counteract abuse and offer addicts treatment. This led to a clear reduction in the number of drug-related deaths, and fewer addicts were infected with HIV. The country now allows the cultivation of marijuana for export for medical use.


Infant Mortality: 3 per 1000 births (2018)

Percentage of HIV infected: 0.5 percent (2018)

Proportion of HIV infected among young women

0.1 percent (2018)

Proportion of HIV infected among young men: 0.1 percent (2018)

Proportion of population with access to clean water: 99.9 percent (2015)

Proportion of the population having access to toilets: 99.6 percent (2017)

Public expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP: 9.0 percent (2015)

Public expenditure on health care per person: 1 801 US dollars (2016)

Proportion of women in parliament: 35 percent (2018)



General strike against new austerity

The government presents yet another austerity package in an attempt to reduce the high government debt. The framework for the 2011 budget is adopted by the National Assembly. A general strike is being held on the initiative of the major trade unions and affects healthcare, police, industry, communications with several social sectors.


Member of the UN Security Council

Portugal gets one of the temporary seats in the UN Security Council. The two-year term of office shall begin on 1 January 2011.


Government policy is supported by Parliament

The National Assembly adopts the vast majority of the government’s proposals for financial austerity.


New protests against the budget cuts

The National Assembly decides on higher taxes for high-income earners and on share profits. Tens of thousands of people are demonstrating in Lisbon in protest of government proposals to freeze public servants’ salaries and to make more budget cuts in combination with new tax increases.


New tax increases, more cuts

The government presents an economic austerity package aimed at reducing the deficit in the state budget. The package includes both tax increases and cuts in the public sector. Tens of thousands of public servants strike for one day in protest of the government’s plans to freeze their salaries.