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Demographic Trends

Spain has a population of approximately 39,508,900 (Eurostat 2001), with fifty provinces in seventeen autonomous regions. The people of Spain are as diverse as the geographical areas they represent. Throughout the centuries, several ethnic groups have maintained their unique cultural and linguistic identities. Among these groups, the Catalans reside primarily in the northeast and on the eastern islands and represent 16 percent of the population. Second, the Galicians live in the northwestern section of Spain and represent 7 percent of the population. Third, the Basques (or Euskal-dun), who represent 2 percent of the population, reside primarily around the Bay of Biscay. Finally, the nomadic Spanish Roma or Gypsies, who traditionally have been more numerous in the southern region of Spain (i.e., Almeria, Granada, Murcia), can also be found today in larger cities like Madrid and Barcelona.

The population's natural growth has been moderate (7 per 1,000, or 27,200 people). Most population growth has been due to migration to the country, which accounted for 1.0 per 1,000 population (40,000 people) in 2000 (European Communities 2001). One of the leading causes of the slow growth is a decrease in fertility rates that began in the 1980s. In 1980 the crude birth rate was 15.3 per 1,000 population; in 1998 and 1999 that rate decreased to 9.2 and 9.5 per 1,000 population, respectively (European Communities 2001 Collection for 1999). In 2000 that number increased slightly to 9.8 per 1,000 population (European Communities 2001).

The decrease in fertility rates is more dramatic when examining the average number of live births during a woman's life. In 1980 the number was 2.2, but it dropped in 1998 and 1999, by which time the numbers stood at 1.15 and 1.18, respectively (European Communities 2001). By 2025 the annual rate of growth is estimated to be –0.4 percent with an approximate population of only 37,648,000 (U.S. Census Bureau 2001).

In trying to understand these numbers, attention must be given to factors affecting the marital relationship as well as the changing role of individuals within the family unit. Over the years Spaniards have been delaying the age at which they marry. In 1975, the average age at first marriage was 26.5 for men and 23.9 for women. In 1995, however, the average age increased to 28.9 for men and 26.8 for women (Pérez-Díaz, Chuliá, and Valiente 2000). During the same period, the average number of marriages per 1,000 individuals also decreased. In 1975 the average rate was of 7.6 per 1,000 population, while the rate in 1980 was 5.9 and in 1999 was 5.2 (European Communities 2001). The divorce rate, however, has remained low when compared to other countries, particularly the United States. In 1998 the average divorce rate per 1,000 individuals was 0.9 compared to 4.3 in the United States (European Communities).

Views regarding cohabitation and the age of emancipation for youth have also changed over the years. In a survey conducted by the Center for Sociological Studies (Centro de Investigaciones Sociólogicas, or CIS) in 1994, 59.2 percent of those interviewed indicated that being married by the church represented the best living arrangement a couple could have. The respondents also indicated at a more personal level that if their neighbors were living together and they were not married, it would not bother them (80.2%). More than half (68.1%) of those interviewed believed the decision to live with someone was a very personal one, and the couple's decision should be accepted (Centro de Investigaciones Sociological 1994).

Meanwhile, researchers have found that young people are also delaying the age at which they leave the family home. In 1987, 84 percent of Spanish youth ages twenty to twenty-four and almost one-half (49%) of individuals ages twenty-five to twenty-nine were still living with their parents. In 1996 the number had increased slightly. Nine out of every ten youth ages twenty to twenty-four were still living with their parents, compared with 62 percent of individuals ages twenty-five to twenty-nine who were also living at home with their nuclear families (as cited by Pérez-Díaz, Chuliá, and Valiente 2000).

The role of women and their active participation the workforce has also played a critical role in Spain's demographic changes. Women are working more outside the home and staying longer in the workforce than any previous generation. According to Víctor Pérez-Díaz and his colleagues (2000), the number of women who completed their formal education and entered the workforce by the end of the 1990s represents two out of every three women ages twenty-five to forty-four (75%), compared to only 30 percent twenty years earlier. However, the critical issue here, according to Julio Iglesias de Ussel (1998), is not that women are working outside the home, but rather that they are staying in the workforce longer. For instance, among women age forty-five to fifty-four, 43 percent of the women interviewed reported still being active in the workforce (as cited by Pérez-Díaz, Chuliá, and Valiente 2000). Access to the public sphere of interaction and its economic implications have empowered women to begin to take control of their own futures and challenged the traditional patriarchal delineation of power within the family.

Nevertheless, is critical to consider the meaning behind these statistics. Why are people delaying the age of marriage? Why have fertility rates decreased so sharply? What seems to fuel the changing role of women in Spanish society?

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsSpain - Demographic Trends, The Changing Attitudes In Spain