Working mums’ woes lower Spain’s birthrate

Juan Jimenez took advantage of a day off to join his partner in collecting their one-year-old son Pablo from a private daycare which the couple struggle to pay for.

Working mums' woes lower Spain's birthrate
Spain has had one of Europe's lowest fertility rates since the 1980s. Photo: Thomas Leth-Olsen

"I don't know how people manage to have two kids," the 32-year-old computer engineer said.

He and his partner insurance worker Nadine Rodriguez, 32, together earn around €2,300 ($3,000) per month.

The couple pay over €500 monthly to leave Pablo part-time in the daycare, from 7:30 am until 4:30 pm.

The couple can't afford the full-time fees (until 8:00 pm) at the private centre and, with few public daycares available, Rodriguez has scaled back her hours at work to be able to look after her son — leading to €300 less in monthly earnings.

The couple took out a 40-year mortgage in 2006 to buy a one-bedroom apartment which is hard to sell in favour a larger home, due to Spain's depressed real estate market.

They would like to have another child but can't imagine that happening anytime soon.

If they did, "it would probably be more economical to not work," said Rodriguez.

The couple's struggle to raise a family is typical in Spain, where the work day often extends well beyond 7:00 pm, affordable daycare is hard to find and public aid to young families is scarce.

As a result Spain has since the 1980s had one of Europe's lowest fertility rates. It stood at 1.32 children per woman last year while the average age at which a woman had her first child was at 31.6.

Spain's birthrate rose modestly during the 2000s as the economy boomed and immigrants poured into the country, but the trend went into reverse after a property bubble burst in 2008, sending the jobless rate soaring to a record 27 percent.

With fewer and fewer future workers and taxpayers being born, Spain faces what could be a fiscal reckoning to provide for its ageing population.

The low birthrate "puts the survival of the welfare state" at risk, said Salome Androher, the general director for family and childhood services at Spain's health ministry.

After Spain returned to democracy following the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975, women poured into the workforce, she said.

"But this massive arrival was not accompanied by the necessary changes in society," said Androher.

Spain needs to adopt more measures to make it easier for women to balance their home and work lives, said Julio Perez, a population specialist at Spain's National Research Council.

"They are charged both with their traditional roles as well as their new roles. The process which will take us to greater equality is not yet completed," he said.

Many couples in Spain rely on their parents to look after their children.

Nearly half of all Spanish grandparents said they looked after their grandchildren on a daily basis, in a 2011 study.

The Spanish government in 2010 eliminated a €2,500 bonus awarded to the parents of each newborn child since 2007 as part of austerity measures aimed at reining in the runaway public deficit.

Rodriguez gets €100 a month from the government as part of a programme to aid working mothers of toddlers.

She hopes to qualify in the new school year for a monthly allowance of another €100 paid by the Madrid regional government to help cover her daycare bill.

State aid though is not enough to boost fertility rates, according to Perez.

"During an economic downturn, the state can do what it wants, but if someone wants to raise a child in good conditions, it is normal that they will put off their plans until another time," he said.

Among developed nations, the countries which have higher fertility rates "are not those that focus on birthrates but those that focus on creating equality between men and women".

Spain's conservative government is working on a plan to make it easier for families to balance their work lives with the need to look after children, which will be tabled at the beginning of 2014.

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EXPLAINED: How to apply for parental leave in Spain

If you're about to become a parent in Spain, things have got easier with new legislation making men and women equal when it comes to parental leave. But who is eligible and how can you apply? We've put together a step by step guide.

EXPLAINED: How to apply for parental leave in Spain

Who is eligible?

As long as you have correctly paid your social security contributions (for a minimum of 180 working days within the past seven years or 360 in your entire professional life), 100 per cent of your salary will be covered.

The money comes from the Spanish government, not your employer, though employers are liable for certain taxes that pertain to the salary, such as withholding.

Freelance workers or autónomos can also apply for 16 week’s parental leave from the government. The amount they receive is calculated based on how much you regularly pay into the social security system under the autónomo system.

Same-sex couples and adoptive parents

In same-sex couples, both parents are entitled to paid leave. However, one will have to apply for maternity benefits and the other for paternity (or ‘other parent’) benefits.

In order to qualify for paid paternity or maternity leave, each parent must have a legal link with the child. This means that paid leave will only be granted if you are a biological parent, or if you have legally adopted the child. Being married to the biological or adoptive parent of a child is not enough to qualify for paid leave.

In the case of adoptive parents, both parents are elegible for the same 16 weeks if the child is under six years old. If the child is older, both adoptive parents are elegible for the remaining optional 10 weeks that a biological parent would have after the first compulsory six weeks after birth.

How long can can I take for parental leave?

Spain became a world leader when it comes to equality between both parents in Europe last year, with a law increasing paternity leave to 16 weeks – the same amount previously only reserved for new mothers.

Under this new law, which came into effect on 1 January 2021, maternity and paternity are equal and non-transferable. This means that if one parent decides not to take the time off, their partner can’t take those weeks in their place.

The first six weeks must be taken immediately and consecutively after the child’s birth, whereas the other 10 weeks can be taken non-consecutively during the first 12 months of the baby’s life.

Where do I apply?

Since April 2019, maternity and paternity leave have been brought together under an umbrella term known as prestación por nacimiento y cuidado del menor or parental leave.


You can apply for parental leave online through your social security portal, either with your digital certificate or with your username and password with [email protected] (a digital signature system). To help with the process, you can use the social security portal’s virtual assistant, and if you need help with the [email protected] system, read this article.

You can also access it through the social security’s digital platform. Once you’ve logged in, all you have to do is fill in the details and upload the required paperwork. The portal will also allow you to estimate the amount of money you will receive, and the length of the parental leave according to the expected date of birth.

However, if you don’t have login details for [email protected], you can still do your application online through the social security website.

By post

If you would rather send the physical documents in the post, this is still possible. You can download, fill out the application and send it to your the branch of INSS (Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social). You can search for the address and phone number here.

In person

Finally, you can also go to your local Social Security Information and Attention Centre (CAISS) by prior appointment and fill out an application form there.

Which documents do I need to include?

In any case, you will have to provide the necessary paperwork. These include:

  • The application form, which you can find here. Here’s a PDF version.
  • ID of the parents (DNI, passport or NIE)
  • If you’re an employee, a certificate from your employer with the start date of the parental leave. This won’t be necessary if it has already been submitted by your employer.
  • A maternity form from your doctor
  • Your libro de familia: The marriage and baby booklet in which all births are recorded is in the process of going digital, but phasing out this century-old document will take time. For now, the Ministry of Justice has said it will continue issuing paper copies.

Other documents may be necessary depending on the circumstances. In case of adoption, you will need to include the required judicial documents establishing the adoption or granting foster care. If prior travel to the country of origin of the adopted child is necessary, you will also need documentation issued by the competent body of your autonomous community.

Who is eligible for extra leave?

Leave can be extended by one week per child in case of a multiple birth, and an extra week can also be applied for if the baby is born with a disability or health problems.

If the baby is premature or has to be hospitalised for longer than seven days, leave can be extended for up to an additional 13 weeks.