In the years after the GFC and the Euro crisis (remember that?) Spain was hit particularly badly. Between 2008 and 2013 the Spanish economy shrunk by nearly 10 per cent. At the end of 2013 more than a quarter of all working aged people were unemployed and the nearly 60 per cent of those under 25 who were looking for a job could not find one. This economic decline was mirrored in a demographic decline: the country’s population subsided by nearly half a million people in the four years to 2016.
And then the economy started to pick up and be more attractive than some of its rivals. Since 2015 Spain’s economy has been expanding faster than the Eurozone average. In 2019 its expected output growth (of 2.3 per cent) will be double the Eurozone average. For the last four years the Spanish job market has expanded by two per cent per year on average and suddenly the country has become very attractive for prospective migrants as well as for expat Spaniards who fled the country in the economic bad times.
All this means that, according to the Financial Times, the Spanish population grew to nearly 47 million people in 2018, an increase of 276,000 people which was the fastest annual increase since 2009. This population growth was wholly due to immigration: the natural increase was in negative territory in 2018 (there were 56,000 more deaths than births) and the total fertility rate dropped to a very low rate of 1.25 children per woman. But the population flows due to migration more than made up for this. For the first time in seven years more Spanish citizens returned to Spain than left it (just). The number of Italians living in Spain grew by 10 per cent (to 244,000) and the number of Portuguese rose by three per cent. But the largest group of migrants to arrive to Spain in 2018 was from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America (for obvious reasons, Venezuela is the most popular country of origin – Spain’s economy would have to be pretty dire not to be attractive for Venezuelans). Migrants from Spanish Latin America can apply for citizenship after two years of legal residency in Spain.
So, thanks to its economic recovery, Spain’s population is continuing to grow and grow quite strongly. And the current government’s welcoming approach to migrants from across the Mediterranean might see the largescale migration to Spain continue in the years ahead, even if the Spanish economy falters again. But the long term demographic health of the country is very weak: natural growth will continue to be negative; the total fertility rate has not been at the replacement level of 2.1 for 40 years. Like so many other western nations, Spain has to import its citizens since they are no longer replacing themselves.
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.