A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[DM] “Why Is Spain’s Population Loss An Economic Problem?”

Demography Matters co-blogger Edward Hugh has posted there, and posted at A Fistful of Euros, an analysis of Spain’s economic future taking dire demographics into account. With high unemployment driving emigration, combined with a very low birth rate, Spain’s future seems challenged.

The most obvious result of having such a high level of unemployment over such a long period of time – Spain’s overall rate won’t be below 20% before 2017 at the earliest – is that people are steadily leaving the country in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Initially this new development was officially denied, and since there is little policy interest in the topic we still don’t have any adequate measure of just how many young educated Spaniards are now working outside their home country. Anecdotal evidence, however, backs the idea that the number is large and the phenomenon widespread. All too often articles in the popular press are misleading simply because journalists have no better data to work from than anyone else. On the other hand work like this from researchers at the Bank of Spain (Spain: From (massive) immigration to (vast) emigration? – 2013) only serves to illustrate how little we know, especially about movement among Spanish nationals.

On the other hand, when it comes to migration flows among non Spanish nationals we do have a lot better quality information due to the existence of the the municipal register electronic database. Everyone who wishes to be included in the health system needs to register with it (whether they are a regular or an irregular immigrant), and non Spanish nationals need to re-register with a certain frequency (so the authorities know if they leave).

More than an economic phenomenon, Spain’s property boom was a demographic one. Since births only just exceeded deaths, between 1980 and 2000 Spain’s population rose slowly, by just over 2 million people. Then between 2000 and 2009 it suddenly surged by 7 million. This was almost entirely due to immigration, with workers coming to the country from all over the globe attracted by the booming jobs market. Then in 2008 the boom came to an abrupt end, and unemployment went through the roof causing the trend to reverse. Since 2010 more people have left the country every year than have arrived, with the consequence that the population is now falling. Given that in 2015 the statistics office forecast that for the first time deaths will exceed births, it is most likely that this decline will continue and continue.

In fact the overall migration number – a net 251 thousand people emigrated in 2013 according to official data – only tells part of the story. The majority of young Spanish people working abroad are not included in these numbers (unless they have explicitly informed the Spanish authorities they are leaving, and few do this, partly because they do not consider themselves “emigrants”), but just as importantly the net balance masks very large movements in both directions. According to the national statistics office over half a million people (532 thousand to be precise) emigrated from Spain in 2013, while 285 thousand people entered the country as immigrants. So the net migration statistic covers over what are really very large flows.

The number of annual births in Spain has been steadily falling since the mid 1970s. They accelerated again slightly in the first years of this century, partly due to the shadow effect of an earlier boom in the 1970s, and partly because the incoming immigrants had a slightly higher birth rate. Coinciding with the outbreak of the crisis births peaked again in 2008 (after an initial peak in 1976 – ie 32 years later, average age at first childbirth is now just above 30) , and now the statistics office forecast a continuous decline.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 17, 2015 at 1:48 am

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