Spain has appointed its first ever demography minister, a move which follows the appointment of the first Commissioner for Demography by the European Union. A large part of their respective roles will be to attempt to manage widespread depopulation.
The European Union’s free movement policy has resulted in some member states struggling to fill their labour forces and manage an ageing population. Educated young people are increasingly drawn to the most prosperous European Union cities, which is a problem when youth are in short supply.
Additionally, many member states value provincial life and culture, yet are watching their treasured family farms and small villages become less and less viable. The people who live in rural areas are feeling increasingly under-resourced and even like “second-class citizens” according to reports. Writing from New Zealand, it saddens me to think that the picturesque villages of Europe might disappear.
Spain’s fertility rate has dropped to just 1.33 births per woman, and has been well under the replacement rate for the last forty years. As the best and brightest move to urban areas, huge areas of the country suffer from depopulation and are at risk of fading from the map.
While Spain’s economy has picked up in recent years and immigration has increased, the new demography minister, Teresa Ribera, must be aware that Spain is required to import its citizens because they are no longer replacing themselves (natural increase has been negative since 2015; there were 55,000 more deaths than births in 2018).
The Guardian writes:
Spain’s population statistics these days are stark: 90% of its people – about 42 million – are squeezed into 1,500 towns and cities that occupy 30% of the land. The other 10% (4.6 million people) occupy the remaining 70%, giving a population density of barely 14 inhabitants per square kilometre.
… In a country where – as Ribera puts it, “everyone has an uncle or a cousin in the countryside, or spends the weekend there, or has roots there” – there is a general feeling that the issue crosses party lines and can no longer remain invisible.
… The government is looking at a range of measures, some national, some local, to redress the balance. As well as improving digital connectivity, encouraging ecotourism and diversification away from agriculture, it is also looking into regional industrial hubs and rolling out mobile schools, doctors’ surgeries and pharmacies.
Hopefully this minister will be successful in preserving rural life as an attractive prospect for Spain’s young and old alike. The country’s 2017 appointed (and oddly named!) “sex czar” does appear to have at least stabilised Spain’s fertility rate, albeit at an already ultra-low rate. There is a long way to go if Spain wants to turn things around and continue to enjoy its traditional culture and family life.
Shannon Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet’s blog on population issues.