Southern European countries and regions are a subject of social research on their own. In addition to sharing a historic past and a number of cultural and identifying features, throughout the 20th and 21st centuries Southern European Societies have undertaken parallel processes of political, economic and social change. These include the transition from dictatorship to democracy, integration in the European Union, far-reaching economic and labour market reforms, changes in gender and intergenerational relations as well as population and family trends.
A number of variations in European capitalism can be identified in southern Europe: the late or non- existent industrialisation, the importance of agriculture and tourism, high levels of land speculation linked to urban development and the important presence of small family businesses. This region is also characterised by its dual market nature, in the sense that we find both robust and technologically advanced business sectors as well as SMEs and companies that have “fallen behind”. The 2008 economic crisis has had a similar effect on countries within the region, where the impact of the recession was particularly severe (resulting in loss of activity, rising unemployment and inequality, welfare cuts and social movements).
Southern European Societies share a welfare state model with specific features, namely a weak system of social protection and a strong influence of the role of the family as a welfare provider. The southern European welfare state is shaped not only by governmental social policies, but also by a gender- imbalanced labour market, the importance of home ownership and family values. Therefore, specific factors in Southern European Societies have acted as mechanisms of cohesion and modernization, including the networks of solidarity, the informal economy, and the functioning of some basic social services, mainly health and education.
In addition to the above mentioned, Southern European Societies also share similarities regarding the rapid processes of social change and the convergence with other European societies. The shift towards new gendered orders reveals a rapid transformation of women’s role in society, resulting in a gap between older and younger female generations. Women’s access to higher education is one of the most relevant features of the gender shift.There has
also been a progressive increase in the number of women who remain permanently in the labour force and a rescheduling of women’s family life, although important inequalities remain, especially when compared to other European regions.
Southern Europe’s youth share a number of common characteristics. Young people in southern Europe are faced with high unemployment rates, stay at the family home for longer and are less likely to have children out of marriage than young people living in other countries of Europe. These specific characteristics are also framed by the nature of the labour market in the region, as well as social policies and relations between family models and education.
Southern Europe also has its own unique migratory model. After decades of migration from rural to urban areas and to other countries, new waves of immigrants have had important impacts on local labour markets and social relations. Migrations in southern Europe are also characterised by increased numbers of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, human trafficking and smuggling, and foreign workers in the informal economy. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis southern European countries have experienced a revival in emigration flows to their neighbours in the North, principally among the young, but also by those who are re-emigrating, together with the consolidation of their position as Europe’s southern border and the arrival of refugees.
Finally, there are important scholarly and policy debates about the causes and the social mechanisms that contribute to the current state of social affairs, in comparison to other countries and regions of Europe and beyond. Some of the main issues at stake are the specific configuration of the institutions and the organizational fields that shape the distinctive characteristics of Southern European Societies, including the welfare system, the organization of the State, the fiscal system, the provision of infrastructures, and key institutions related to education, health, science and technology, industrial development and economic policy, among others.