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Older and more diverse: What Spain’s population will be like in 50 years

New demographic projections suggest big changes to Spanish society in the coming decades, with the country set to rely more heavily on migration to keep the economy running as the birth rate among Spaniards drops and life expectancy rises.

spain's future population
People wearing face masks walk through central Zaragoza in 2020. Spain's population will rely on immigration to continue growing. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

According to new projections released by INE, Spain’s national statistics body, the Spanish population is set to undergo some big demographic changes in the coming years.

Taking a broad stroke view of the statistics, Spanish society is set to get older and made up of more immigrants in the future, with the INE figures predicting that Spain will gain over 4 million (4,236,335) people by 2037, with the population set to reach 51 million. That represents an increase of 8.9 percent.

Population growth is then anticipated to slow slightly, and by 2072, in 50 years’ time, the Spanish population is projected to reach 52.9 million, an increase of 5.45 million people from 2022 figures.

The INE numbers have even made population increases by region, with the greatest relative increases expected in the Balearic Islands (25.0 percent), Murcia (16.0 percent) and the Canary Islands (15.5 percent).

On the other hand, the biggest falls in population will likely be seen in Asturias (-6.7 percent), Extremadura (-4.8 percent) and Castilla y León (-4.1 percent).

Increasing immigrant population

The estimated population growth is predicted to be largely due to immigration. If INE models are accurate, this would mean that the Spanish-born population will see a steady decline and fall from 84.5 percent, the proportion of the population currently, to 63.5 percent within 50 years.

To put that statistic in other words, by 2072 36.5 percent of people resident in Spain, a little over one in three, will be born in another country.

This is unsurprising if you consider Spain’s net migratory trends of recent years.

According to provisional immigration figures, Spain received 530,401 migrants during 2021, while only 381,724 Spaniards emigrated during that period. It is this net-positive migratory trend, first observed in 2016, which will be the driving force of Spain’s population growth and is expected to maintain in the long term.

READ ALSO: Spain’s population hits record 47 million for the first time thanks to immigration

Birth rates

The growing proportion of immigrants in the Spanish population is partly explained by Spain’s shortage of newborns.

The birth rate in Spain has been declining for around a century, to the extent that the birth rate in the past year was 7 births for every 1,000 people, and the total number of births reached the lowest number in history in 2021 – with 338,532 babies born. That represents a huge 39 percent drop compared to a decade ago.

Fertility rate figures have also revealed that there were only 1.19 children per woman of childbearing age in Spain in 2022, much lower than the rate needed for the population to remain stable – 2.1 children per woman.

According to the INE, between 2022 and 2036 around 5.5 million children will be born, 14.2 percent less than in the previous 15 years. From 2058, however, births could begin to rise again.

Deaths

As birth rates fall, deaths in Spain are expected to continue their rise until they peak in 2064. According to INE projections, it is estimated that in 2036 and 2071 there will be 494,371 and 652,920 deaths respectively, compared to 449,270 in 2021.

READ ALSO: Foreign residents in Spain top 6 million for first time

Ageing population 

The Spanish population is also set to get older, with the percentage of the population over 65 years of age predicted to peak in 2050, when almost one in three will be 65 years old or older.

READ ALSO: Spain’s over 65s exceed 20 percent of the population for the first time

At a time when pensions are a big political talking point in Spain, by 2035, in just 15 years, around one in four (26.0 percent) of Spaniards are expected to be 65 or older.

That figure is currently just 20.1 percent of the total population, and by 2050 it could rise to 30.4 percent.

Equally, the working age population is also set to decline. The Spanish population between 20 and 64 years of age, which in 2022 is 60.7 percent of the total, is projected to drop to 53.1 percent in by 2052, with a very slight uptick (back to 54.7 percent) by 2072.

In simple terms, with the population ageing but the proportion of working people falling, the dependent population rate will increase to the point where Spaniards over 16 years of age and over 64 will outgrow the working age population. This trend – worrying for both Spain’s employment market and social care sector – is expected to peak around 2050, when three in four (76 .8%) are expected to be dependent, and just one in four between 16-64 years.

This is partly why the proportion of foreign-born residents is expected to rise so much in Spain. As the number of working age Spaniards shrinks, a bigger immigrant workforce will required to fill the gaps.

Life expectancy 

Despite Spain’s ageing population, the INE actually forecasts life expectancy to increase. Life expectancy at birth could reach 86.0 years in men and 90.0 in women by 2071, rises of 5.8 and 4.2 years compared to current life expectancy figures.

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IMMIGRATION

Growing number of foreigners drives Spain’s population rise

According to recent census data, foreigners are boosting population numbers in Spain to record levels.

Growing number of foreigners drives Spain's population rise

Spain is home to more people than ever.

According to census data from Spain’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), the total number of people living in Spain was 47,475,420, as registered on the padrón on January 1st 2022.

This figure means Spain’s population is the highest it has ever been, after increasing by 90,313 people compared to a year earlier, an increase of 0.19 percent. 

READ ALSO: Spain’s over 65s exceed 20 percent of the population for the first time

This growth represents a recovery from the decline of 2020, a year marked by a surge in deaths during to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This recovery, the figures suggest, is mainly born from a growing foreign population, which increased by 102,784 people to 5,542,932 and accounts for 11.7 percent of the total, a proportion of the Spanish population not seen in the INE data since 2013.

Increasing foreigners

Much of this population growth has been driven by foreigners.

A decade ago, the percentage of registered foreigners in Spain was 12.1 percent, a figure that fell to 9.8 percent in 2017, which was the lowest figure in the last decade.

The remaining native population, all 41,932,488 Spanish nationals, decreased by 12,471 people compared to the previous year.

Age profiles

The average overall age registered on the padrón is 44.1 years, with the average age of Spaniards being slightly older, at 45 years old, and that of foreigners, 37.1 years old. EU citizen foreigners in Spain are in the middle of the two, with an average of 39.6 years old.

Among the large foreign national groups in Spain, the highest average ages are, perhaps unsurprisingly, those from northern European nations that have large retired communities in Spain, such as Britons (54.1 years), Germans (50) and French (43).

At the other end of the spectrum, the foreign nationals with the lowest average age are people from Honduras (30.4 years), Pakistan (31.1) and Morocco (32).

Largest migrant groups

Of the roughly 5.5 million foreigners in Spain, the number that are EU citizens are around 1.6 million. Of these EU citizens in Spain, the Romanians are the biggest group, with 623,097, followed by the Italians (273,889) and Germans (115,099).

Of the non-European foreigners resident in Spain, Moroccans (883,243), Colombians (314,679) and Britons (293,171) are the biggest groups.

Looking ahead

This trend of a growing foreign population seems set to continue into the future, and it may well prove pivotal to Spain’s medium to long-term future.

According to projections released by the INE, the Spanish population is set to undergo some big demographic changes in the coming years.

Taking a broad stroke view of the statistics, Spanish society is set to get older and will be made up of more immigrants in the future, with the INE figures predicting that Spain will gain over 4 million (4,236,335) people by 2037, with the population set to reach 51 million. That represents an increase of 8.9 percent.

Population growth is then anticipated to slow slightly, and by 2072, in 50 years’ time, the Spanish population is projected to reach 52.9 million, an increase of 5.45 million from 2022 figures.

The estimated population growth is predicted to be driven largely by inward migration. If INE models are accurate, this would mean that the Spanish-born population will see a steady decline and fall from 84.5 percent, the proportion of the population currently, to 63.5 percent within 50 years.

To put that statistic in other words, by 2072 36.5 percent of people resident in Spain, a little over one in three, will have be born in another country.

Spain’s combination of an ageing population, declining birth rates and high unemployment among young people mean that this influx in foreign labour (and crucially, social security payments) will be crucial in keeping Spain’s pension pot topped-up in the future.

READ ALSO: Spain has third most generous pension compared to salary in Europe

Spain’s working-age population is set to decline, according to projections. The Spanish population between 20 and 64 years of age, which in 2022 was 60.7 percent of the total, is projected to drop to just 53.1 percent by 2052. 

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