In the past few decades Mediterranean Europe has reached the top of the international table of expectation of life, in spite of welfare states that are weaker than in north-western countries. Some leading scholars have suggested that the ‘longevity records’ recently set up by southern Europe might be explained primarily by the greater strength of family ties, which would generate stronger moral obligations towards kin and result in a correspondingly greater importance of families and kinship networks as sources of social security. The aim of this essay is to assess whether the structural weaknesses of the institutional fabric of southern European states are actually more than counterbalanced by the strength of cultural factors, and whether the allegedly greater pervasiveness of the family as a welfare agency in southern Europe comes from deep Mediterranean cultural roots or is better explained by the historical specificities of institutional development in this area.
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