The economic crisis is causing Spain’s highest demographic decline since 1939
Crisis, België, Werkloosheid, Spanje, Jongerenwerkloosheid, Immigratie, Emigratie van jongeren, Spaanse revolutie, Economen, Demografie, Vruchtbaarheid -

The economic crisis is causing Spain’s highest demographic decline since 1939

woensdag 2 november 2011 11:24

Author: Miriam Izquierdo Revised by: Lode Vanoost

This decline, which after a whole generation of low birth rates reached its peak when the economic crisis set in, will intensify in coming years if nothing changes to fertility and migration rates in Spain. The country has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe and 580.850 people will emigrate this year. For the first time in decades emigration exceeds immigration, according to recent information from the Spanish National Institute of Statistics (INE) published in April 2011.

The INE states that for the first time since 1939, Spain is losing population. The number of inhabitants decreased by 4.300 people in the first quarter of this year, but has decreased even more to 23.400 in the second quarter. Also, Spain currently has a negative net migration flow of 150.000-200.000 people per year, because of the high amount of immigrants returning to their countries of origin and of Spanish citizens migrating abroad, as they are running away from the crisis. This way they are further depressing the domestic economic demand.

Over the last decade Spain became the country receiving the highest amount of foreigners, only preceded by the U.S., but now this decline in population is explained by the mass exodus of residents: 580.850 people, equivalent to the population of Antwerp, pack their bags this year to cross the border, according to estimates released in April 2011. This is more than double the output recorded in 2008 (266.460). 9 out of 10 who leave are foreigners.

Only three years ago, the INE still expected the country to reach 49 million inhabitants in 2018. Last year, expectations were lowered to 47.2 million by 2020. One year later, in 2011, the forecast is even more pessimistic: within the next 10 years the population will have declined 1.2%. “If current demographic trends continue, Spain would lose more than half a million people in the next 10 years, after a period of intense population growth”, says the INE in a press statement. The results of their projection for the whole period 2011-2020 foresee a growing tendency of people now living in Spain to migrate abroad (taking the data for 2011 as reference). If that happens, Spain would accumulate a net migration loss of 945,663 people between 2011 and 2020.

This crisis will take a toll on the number of inhabitants of Spain at a steady pace until 2021, from its current 46.1 million to 45.5, all within a decade. This is more than half a million people gone if current trends continue. This year alone it will be 34.193 inhabitants less according to the INE.


Between 2008 and 2010, the average number of births per year has dropped more than 6%. The number of children per woman needed for stable population replacement is 2.1. However, between 2008 and 2010, this has declined from 1.38 to 1.32 children for Spanish women and from 1.81 to 1.64 for immigrants. With such low levels of fertility, the next generation of Spanish will be one third less numerous than before. It is doubtful whether fertility can increase in the future because of the entry of women into the labor market and the present and probable future lack of public policies to support childcare.

Migration decline

The main reason for this demographic decline is that emigration by far exceeds immigration. 90% of those leaving are foreigners, over half a million immigrants a year, especially the young labor force. During the late 90’s and early 2000, Spain was receiving a large number of immigrants. More recently, the country became one of the easiest countries in Europe for naturalization on the basis of permanent residence.

Statistics this year expect that 580,850 people will leave Spain. In the first semester of the year already 295,141 people have left and this is expected to rise to over a half a million every year until 2020. The immigration forecast will be around 450,000 persons per year, so overall migration will have a negative balance over the next decade. It will exceed more than 100,000 by 2014. Mamadu from Senegal, who has been living in Spain for 8 years, is now searching for a job abroad: “I was working here for several years but now there are no jobs anymore, besides, the police checks of immigrants in the streets are constant, this is no life. Now that I have the European Union identity card, I am going somewhere else in Europe”.

Spanish decline

Of those leaving, 10% are Spanish. The language gap, the culture, the lack of information about courses or jobs abroad, the lack of social benefits for those living in foreign countries and the importance of the family are some of the reasons why Spanish people find harder to leave, according to experts. In 2003, barely 14,000 Spanish left the country; in 2006 that went up to 18,000 and to just over 28,000 Spanish nationals (or 12.4% of the total emigration) in 2007. In 2011 around 58.085 Spanish citizens will leave the country.

The crisis and unemployment

The crisis started in Spain in 2007 after what was known as the ‘brick crisis’ or the crisis in the construction sector. Most immigrants and Spanish citizens were then tempted by the quick and easy access to jobs. Now those jobs are gone. According to data from the Federation for Applied Economics (FEDEA) and its Employment Crisis Observatory for 2011, in this quarter the number of unemployed people increased by 213,500, rising the total number of unemployed people to 4,910,200. The unemployment rate almost grew one full point and now stands at 21.29%. Job destruction at an average of 4.3% was maintained and even increased over the same quarter last year. Employees under the age of 25 are most affected by this job loss and the rate is growing. Their rate is twice that of the next age group (25-34).

Individuals with low skills are undoubtedly experiencing the biggest job losses. The probability that somebody with only a primary or lower secondary education will lose his/her job is 39% higher than that of a similar person with a higher secondary or university degree.

However, the most important factor to understand who is more likely to lose their job is the type of work contract.  A person with a temporary contract is 7 times more likely to lose his/her job than someone with a permanent contract. According to INE, an unemployed person has more chances of finding only a temporary contract (82%). The timid changes of the last labor law reform to enhance permanent employment have not, at least so far, had a visible positive effect.

Brain Drain

According to the Annual Report on Migration and Asylum Statistics (2007-2010), these projections do not actually contain anything new. The collapse of speculative construction and the persistence of a crisis getting worse by austerity measures, caused a decrease of new immigration and an increase of emigration by people still living in Spain, which turns this into a negative net migration.

The youngest and certainly the best trained people are leaving when they run out of their legal rights to unemployment benefits. The best young people and the best immigrants are the ones leaving.

Coming to Belgium

According to the European Migration Network (EMN), in their Annual Report on Migration (2009-2010), migration in Belgium is having an opposite trend than in Spain. The number of immigrants grew slightly (1,4%) to 166.479 arrivals in 2009 of which 39.602 were returning Belgians, 66.379 were from the other EU-27 countries and 60.226 from third countries. Immigration figures increased 12,1% between 2007 and 2008 and 1.4% between 2008 and 2009. In 2008 there also was higher emigration compared to 2007 (10,1%). Between 2008 and 2009 there was a 3,4% growth of emigration.

In 2007, the number of immigrants and emigrants was already the highest ever observed in Belgian history. The number of immigrants keeps growing faster than the number of emigrants, so net migration is higher than ever. In 2008, just after the crisis started affecting Europe and especially the Mediterranean countries, Belgium underwent an increase of 15,4% to its migration balance.

Between 2009 and 2010 the Belgian population grew from 10.748.875 to 10.835.083. This means the growth rate went from respectively 0,7% in 2009 to 0,8% in 2010. In 2009 the Spanish population in Belgium was 43.629 and in 2010 this increased to 45.233.

According to the Consulate General of Spain in Brussels, at the moment there are around 50.000 Spanish citizens living in Belgium. Their largest concentration is in the capital Brussels with 27.782 (59.1% of all Spanish).

Some personal stories

Daniel and Irene are both in their 30’s, he is an engineer in telecommunications and she is an architect who left Spain for Belgium. They both were unemployed there but Belgium gave them the possibility to work in line with their degree and with a permanent contract. They do not consider going back in the short term:  “The labor market in architecture in Spain is very complicated. Salaries are very low compared to the qualification of the people. The employment future in Spain is very uncertain because young people with a high education are not valued enough. There is a tendency to work in jobs with a lower qualification”.

Besides, the Consulate confirms they registered a high number of Moroccan residents and Spanish citizens of Moroccan origin leaving Spain and moving to wealthier countries in Europe, such as Belgium. Many of them however found out they had a labor permit not accepted in Belgium, so they left Spain for other countries without knowing that they had no valid working permit. According to the EMN, in 2009 a total of 13.710 people were thus apprehended in Belgium. More than one out of three (34,4%) of these third-country nationals without a legal permit were citizens from Morocco (2.465) or Algeria (2.255).

Alejandro Macarrón Larumbe, a business strategy and corporate finance consultant, confirmed to the Diario Expansión “Spain has a thousand problems but almost all of them are discussed and sometimes we even solve them. In contrast, the dramatic demographic losses at the end of the year, which in the long term is much more serious than a thousand of these other problems together, is not even debated, nor is anything done about it. Why? For how long?”.

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