Spain's Population Declines Amid Economic Crisis

Jul 10, 2013
Originally published on July 11, 2013 10:50 am

The economic crisis in Spain, where the unemployment rate is a record 27 percent, is forcing people to leave the country to look for work.

The BBC’s Tom Burridge reports the birthrate in Spain is also falling, because couples believe they can’t afford to have children under the economic circumstances.

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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. We haven't heard a lot about it, but there is an economic crisis in Spain. The unemployment rate is a record 27 percent, and it's forcing people to leave the country to look for work. It's also apparently affecting the birthrate, which is falling because couples believe they can't afford to have a child. The BBC's Tom Burridge reports from Madrid.

MARIA PEREZ-PLAPA: (Foreign language spoken)

TOM BURRIDGE: Maria Perez-Plapa(ph)...

JORGE MARTIN: (Foreign language spoken)

BURRIDGE: ...and Jorge Martin(ph) have four cats.

MARTIN: They all have musicians' names. That's David Bowie. Then we have Amy, from Amy Winehouse.

BURRIDGE: And a dog called Bruno. And at 35 and 38, they would now like children, but their financial situation means they can't.

MARTIN: My situation, economically, is pretty bad. I haven't had a proper job for two years. So, basically, that's really holding us back, because we're in a very unstable situation.

BURRIDGE: On top of the fact that Jorge is unemployed, Maria Perez could be soon working fewer hours, or even lose her job.

PEREZ-PLAPA: (Through translator) There have been many job cuts, and in my sector, too, and it will be really risky to have a baby right now. With all the payments we have each month, we'd have to find somewhere bigger to live, et cetera.

MARTIN: We are in an age where it's the proper time to do it, and we definitely feel like having children. But the problem is that given our situation, we just can't even think about it, and we consider it would be irresponsible to have any children in this situation.


BURRIDGE: In the past four years, the number of babies born in Spain has fallen by 13 percent. Spanish mums are having fewer children.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm a professional with university degree, so forth. You'd probably aim to have three. I think now, you'd probably think, well, hang on a minute. I'd better have two, just in case.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: My friends who got married like, 10 years ago, they were having children without thinking that much. Nowadays, they are thinking twice because it's not that easy for the woman.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Through translator) It's not that families don't want to have more children. It's that they can't. The economic crisis has meant, of course, that there are fewer jobs for the parents, less help from the government, less social security help for families. So the average number of children people are having is two, or even not at all.

BURRIDGE: In Spain, women have, on average, 1.3 children. Compare to that Holland, where the figure is 1.8. And in England and Wales, Ireland and France, the average number of children per woman is around two.


BURRIDGE: At the Ruber International Hospital in Madrid, a couple look at scans and hear the heartbeat...


BURRIDGE: ...of their unborn baby. Dr. Elena Melia says women in Spain are also having children later in life.

DR. ELENA MELIA: The mean age of having their first children is going up. I mean, in the year '92, it was 29 years in the Spanish woman. And now we are in 32.1. I think the main problem is the economic situation we have. We need to work the two of the couple, and that's why we're deciding to have the children a little bit later.

BURRIDGE: The Spanish government says the economy here will start growing and unemployment falling towards the end of this year. But the social consequences of Spain's crisis will be felt for much longer.

YOUNG: The BBC's Tom Burridge, in Madrid. So the economy is driving down birthrates and driving people from Spain to look for work, but around the world, war is creating the biggest refugee crisis in 20 years. We'll take that up next. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.