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Why so many people in Spain 'dream' of becoming civil servants

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
Why so many people in Spain 'dream' of becoming civil servants
It’s not that being a funcionario is ‘the dream’, it’s that most other jobs in Spain are disappointing. (Photo by CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP)

Why are millions of Spaniards willing to give up their careers and study for years in order to become paper-pushers for the State for the rest of their lives?


Call it a willingness to conform, the search for a simpler life, or a lack of entrepreneurial zest; in Spain, many people (some would say ‘too many’) dream of becoming funcionarios (civil servants). 

When 2,000 Spaniards aged 18 to 55 were surveyed in early 2023 on what they thought of being a civil servant in Spain, 74 percent said that becoming one offers a better quality of life.


That same study found that almost seven million Spaniards between those ages had already sat what’s called an oposición, the exam that has to be passed - often with flying colours - to be picked among thousands of other candidates for a civil servant position.

Some oposiciones are harder than others, opositores often spend years studying for them, they may not get chosen but they try for another one, again, and again, often for years, and when they finally get in, they usually put aside their degrees and careers in other fields to join the ranks of Spain’s bureaucratic labyrinth. 

There’s been a figure floating around for some time saying that 75 percent of young people in Spain want to become funcionarios - even Antonio Banderas used it in an interview in 2016 to criticise the lack of entrepreneurship in Spain, arguing that “you can’t form a country like that”. 

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Some sources say that figure is incorrect, others that it isn't. It may be impossible to really determine how many young or adult Spaniards want to work for the State, but what’s undeniable is that for outsiders that analyse Spanish society, there’s certainly a lot more interest in this mundane, average-pay work than in most other countries.

So why is becoming a civil servant ‘the dream’ in Spain?


For starters, job security. It’s practically impossible to be fired. Only 500 funcionarios have been given the boot in Spain since 1996. 

One of them was Spain’s so-called laziest civil servant, who clocked in everyday only to immediately walk out for a decade while being paid €50,000 a year for zero work. 

A law was brought out in 2019 to punish funcionarios whose output is below par, but as so often happens in Spain, there is little evidence that this is being carried out in practice. At worst they’ll be moved to another department. 

Such guarantees of a ‘job for life’ are impossible to offer in any other profession in Spain, particularly given the unstable nature of the country’s economy and its chronically high unemployment.

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Second is the pay. Not fantastic in most cases, but when you combine the impossibility of losing your job with Spain’s relatively low cost of living, earning an average of €2,884 gross a month (2022 figures from Spain’s National Statistics Institute) means many feel they’ll be coasting throughout their working life and into retirement. 

Keep in mind as well that no civil servant will be mileurista, the Spanish word coined to describe the millions of people who scrape by on €1,000 a month.

Thirdly are the job conditions. It may be painfully boring work in many cases but being a funcionario tends to result in having more days of paid holiday leave than average (increasing further as one becomes more senior), the possibility of negotiating flexible hours, clocking out at lunchtime on Fridays, and of course the sacred half an hour coffee break at 11am. 

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In a country known for its employee exploitation in the private sector, where many bosses equate hours behind the desk with productivity, and where extra hours are rarely remunerated, having such rights enshrined - and usually protected by powerful unions - is a huge perk for civil servants.  

Another factor is the abundance of public sector positions. Under the Socialist government of Pedro Sánchez, more posts have been opened and there are now 3.5 million civil servants in the country, representing 17.2 percent of Spain’s workforce in early 2023. Are there not enough jobs advertised on Infojobs for the degree you studied? No problem, sit an oposición, not all of them take years to prepare.

READ ALSO: Spain has fewest job vacancies in EU despite worker shortage

And lastly, there’s the fact that in the eyes of Spanish banks, there’s no one more trustworthy in terms of repayment than a funcionario. Bank managers know civil servants will always have a job and a moderate income with which to pay back loans or mortgages. That’s right, an autónomo (self-employed worker) could be earning twice as much as a Spanish civil servant and have been for several years, but they’ll still be seen as more risky a debtor than the ‘safe as houses’ civil servant. 

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So all these factors add up to explain why, as mentioned earlier, many Spaniards see a job for the State as equalling a better quality of life. 

After all, many people in Spain work to live, and not the other way around. 

It’s part of the Spanish psyche, perhaps a trait that’s developed from realising that whatever career ambitions they had initially - whether it be moving up in a company or setting up their own business - have been dashed by low pay, exploitation, complicated bureaucracy, high self-employed taxes and a general sense that meritocracy and entrepreneurship aren’t rewarded in Spanish work spheres. 

It’s not that being a funcionario is ‘the dream’, it’s that most other jobs in Spain are disappointing.



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