Oct 142011


Like most countries, Spain relies upon a ten yearly national census to provide an update on the country and the evolution of the population in Spain.  The last census in Spain was in 2001 so, of course, a further national census is due to occur this year.  Indeed, if you live in Spain you may receive a census form to fill in, at any time.

For reasons that I do not know (probably due to cost restrictions), the census in Spain this year is being done on a very restricted basis.  For the past 150 years the census has involved an exhaustive review of every house in the land.  However, the 2011 census in Spain is going to involve only 12% of the population of Spain and is therefore, in reality, just a ‘snapshot’ – albeit complemented by existing facts about Spain and specific statistics held by Spanish government ministries.

The last census in Spain showed some interesting changes in the population of Spain and the evolution of the country and its population.  As you can see, from the charts below, the Spanish population more than doubled between 1900 (18,855,008) to 2001 (40,476,273 million).

Growth of population in Spain


Interesting, is it not, that such a huge country should have had so tiny a population at the turn of the last century?  This, I believe, says much about the innate poverty of Spain (as a whole) for most of its history and echoes what I still hear from many Spanish friends.  They often tell me that ´Spain is a poor country, you know’.

Indeed, the reality is that many Spaniards know that the ten year Spanish economic boom, which ended in 2007, was something of a glorious illusion – built on uncertain foundations…

For the record – the World Bank estimated the population of Spain in 2009 as 45,957,671 people although it is now (2011) thought to be around 46.1 million.

Interestingly, the fascinating pyramid charts at the bottom of this article seem to bear out the poverty of Spain at the turn of the last century.  Note the 1960 chart which shows the results of the trauma suffered by the Spanish both before and after the ferocious Spanish Civil War (1936/39), during which some 500,000-600,000 Spaniards were killed and many emigrated.

What the population charts show, very dramatically, is the massive difference in longevity of the Spanish population between 1900 and 2001.   You can clearly see a reasonably neat triangle in 1900 – where infant mortality was high and life expectancy was low.

However, by 2001 the pyramid chart had inverted with very low infant mortality and a much higher life expectancy in Spain – to the point at which there is even a fair expectation for some (mainly female!) Spaniards to reach the age of 85 or more.  The implications for Spain with its ‘ageing’ population for pensions and healthcare expenditure are, of course, obvious and profound…

Meanwhile, there has been profound change over the past hundred years  in the way that people in Spain live.  Spain has changed from being an agrarian society to one in which the vast majority of the population live on the coasts and within the cities working in the service sector and industry.

Incidentally, if you are interested in the top 5 most populated provinces in Spain (as of 2001) then they were:

Province              Inhabitants

Madrid                 6,481,541
Barcelona            5,526,536
Valencia               2,275,997
Alicante               1,931,751
Seville                  1,927,109

So, what are the likely results of the census in Spain for 2011 and what interesting facts about Spain will be established?

Of course, no-one can be sure – but I would keep an eye out for a significant rise in the population of Spain and a dramatic surge in the number of foreigners resident in Spain, although establishing this number exactly will be well-nigh impossible.

Certainly, there has been massive immigration to Spain over the past few years.  Indeed, the small number (1,370,657)   of foreigners in Spain in 2001 may have surged to a point at which the number of foreigners resident in Spain now comprises something like 10-15% of the population of Spain!  If this is the case then it may be the source of possible concern to the Spanish who, in only ten years, will have experienced a radical change to their traditional demographics that may, at some point, impact upon the very culture of Spain itself.

All of this may be exacerbated by (to quote El Pais) the fact that ‘the number of deaths in 2019 will exceed the number of births. Within the next decade Spain will have 1.4 million people over the age of 64, 17.8 percent more than at present.’  This is due to a drop in the number of women of child bearing age due, evidently, to a drop in births during the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis in Spain may well initiate a significant increase in the number of (mainly young) Spaniards moving abroad to seek work.  I doubt that this will be shown in the 2011 census in Spain – but this trend may be of significance in the years to come…

Nick Snelling

Evolution of population in Spain 1900 and 1960



Evolution of population in Spain 1991 and 2001



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