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Teresa Jurado Guerrero

Spain is the country with the lowest fertility and the highest unemployment and short-term employment rates within the European Union. In addition, young Spanish people of age 25 to 29 stay longest in their parental homes and have more often than in most other European countries university diplomas. The life expectancy of women aged 20 is 62 years; it belongs together with France to the highest rates in the Union.


Geography and history

Spain and Portugal form the Iberian Peninsula with its strategic position between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Spain's position between Africa and north-western Europe is reflected in its twofold climate: the humid Atlantic climate in the north and the dry continental and Mediterranean climate in the other parts of the country. The careful use and the redistribution of the scarce rain water is one of the great national problems, and so is the soil erosion and the increase in desert areas. Spain ranks second behind Switzerland regarding the average height. A number of mountain ranges isolated several regions from each other for a long time before modern means of transport were in widespread use. Spain has a long history of ethnic and cultural coexistence and assimilation. First, for around 500 years the domination of the Romans; second, for 300 years the Germanic peoples' rule, and finally from 711 to 1492 the domination of the North African Muslims in the southern parts of the country. The Spanish nation state is one of the oldest ones in Europe because it was created by the Catholic kings as early as 1479. It was characterised by a strong centralism which was only temporarily interrupted twice by republican regimes (1873-74 and 1931-36). Nonetheless, for centuries some Spanish regions - in particular Catalonia and the Basque Country - conserved their own languages, regional consciousness and specific legal institutions and rights (fueros). Today, four languages are used in Spain: català, galego, euskera and castellano (the official language).



After the Civil War in 1936-39 Spain had a dictatorial regime until 1975, and since 1978 Spain has been a parliamentary monarchy. In 1983 Spain was decentralised and transformed into an "Estado de las Autonomías", composed of 17 politically autonomous regions, "Comunidades Autónomas". The first two national governments were led by the Democratic Centre Union (UCD), which was replaced by a social-democratic majority government in 1982. The Socialist Workers Party of Spain (PSOE) won the elections after a military coup in 1981 had failed. For 14 years the PSOE governed Spain - first as a majority government and then as a minority government. In March 1996 the centre-right Popular Party (PP) won the elections with 39 per cent of the votes compared to 38 per cent for the PSOE. It formed a minority government depending on the support of regional nationalist parties, in particular the Catalan Convergence and Union (CiU). The Cabinet of 14 ministers included four female ministers: the ministers of education, science and culture, of agriculture, of environment and of justice. The current Spanish party system is composed of three national parties: PSOE, PP and IU (United Left) and of several regional parties with parliamentary representation: the Catalan Convergence and Union Party (CiU), the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), the Canary Islands Coalition (CC), the National Galician Bloc (BNG) and the Basque United People (HB). Since 1993, the two large national parties have to rely on support from the nationalist parties, which gives the latter increased political weight.


For the last 30 years the Spanish economy has been catching up with the most developed economies. Until 1975 the levels of the per capita income increasingly converged. Then, between 1975 and 1986, the process was reversed. In the second half of the 1980s until 1991, the gap became smaller again. Finally, since 1992, the Spanish per capita income has reached a level of around three quarters of the EU average (cf. Table). In 1986, Spain became a member of what is now the European Union, and in 1989 the peseta joined the exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System. During the second half of the 1980s Spain experienced a strong economic growth along with a liberalisation of trade and financial markets, a devaluation of the peseta, a strong inflow of foreign direct investment and a reduction of the high unemployment rate. At the end of 1992 the Spanish economy entered into the deepest recession of the last few decades, and the unemployment rate went up to 23 per cent in 1995.

The constant increase of the weight of the public sector in the economy, in particular during the 1980s, was much more pronounced than in other countries, mainly due to the expansion of the welfare state, the decentralisation process and the increase in interest payments. Social expenditures increased in particular for pensions, health and unemployment not only as a result of more generous benefits; they were also and especially a consequence of the fact that a larger part of the population became entitled to benefits. The transformation of the Spanish economy has been characterised by a strong decline of employment in the primary sector, an extensive reorganisation of the industrial sector with a loss of workplaces and an expansion of the service sector. The economic problems with the greatest social impact remain those of the labour market which suffers from a high unemployment rate, a low participation rate, poor functional and geographical mobility, inappropriate and/or insufficient education and training, a large underground economy, a strong dualism in employment conditions and marked wage differences by labour market segment and by gender. Despite high unemployment rates and the importance of long-term unemployment, Spain has not experienced a general increase in the crime rate or social unrest. Four explanations are normally put forward: 1. real unemployment is probably lower than stated by statistics due to the importance of the underground economy, 2. a relatively generous selective social policy targeted at male breadwinners, 3. a higher incidence of unemployment among young people and women living in families in contrast to adult men, and 4. the dominant Spanish family model characterised by a wide diffusion of family-oriented values and by the practice of inter-generational solidarity.

Demography and family

For nearly 20 years now the birth rate has been falling in Spain. Currently Spain has one of the lowest fertility rates of the world with 8.9 live births per 1,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, until the year 2010 approximately, the natural growth of the population will be positive due to the high proportion of women at the age of childbearing and due to the low mortality rate. In addition, immigration has been contributing to the total population growth since 1991. For the last few decades, Spanish families have experienced other fundamental changes as well, and family law and policies changed radically during the democratisation process. In 1981, civil marriage became an option for citizens, and questions regarding marital break-up passed from the responsibility of the Church to that of the state. These reforms also led to the equality of spouses: wives were no longer legally bound to obey their husbands. Rules regarding financial questions in marriage, infidelity, paternity, children born out of wedlock and other family matters were also changed. Since the mid-1980s, abortion has been legal in some cases, and the law is being applied in a liberal way. Besides, cohabiting and homosexual couples can register their unions in municipalities. For more than two decades now, marriages have been postponed, the number of civil marriages has been growing, fertility has declined dramatically, divorce has become legal and has been increasing, and female employment has been growing. Nonetheless, Spain remains below the West European average regarding female employment, divorce, young people living in one-person households or in cohabitation, and for births out of wedlock. More Spanish people approve of divorce, abortion, and single mothers today than 20 years ago, but values of community and solidarity persist with respect to obligations within the nuclear family and to the importance of children. Family changes are especially reflected in the fact that young women's biographies are different from those of their mothers. The younger generation of women has achieved higher educational levels and has now higher qualification levels than the corresponding male generation. Young women have more often highly-skilled professional and public service positions than older women. The activity rate of women during their reproductive phase (25-54 years) increased from 30 per cent in 1980 to 56 per cent in 1995. Women very often want to be employed, and this results in high female unemployment rates, high rates of women living in the parental home while they are searching for an adequate job, and in the birth of few children as a measure to harmonize family and work life.

Regional diversity

Spain does not only know linguistic and cultural regional differences, but great socio-economic disparities, too. First of all, the population concentrates in a few regions: the coastal regions and the region of Madrid, while the inland regions, in particular Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha, are demographic deserts. Three aspects of geographical inequalities are presented in this short overview. First, unemployment differences; second, income inequalities; and third, variations in young people's living arrangements.

The greatest regional differences between these three indicators can be found with respect to the unemployment rates, as shown in the first map. All three indicators have been standardised by putting the national average at 100 which allows comparisons between them. Since 1988, Spanish regional unemployment rates have not changed regarding their relative positions despite the fact that all unemployment rates grew between 1988 and 1994. In 1995, Andalucía and Extremadura had the highest unemployment rates (35 and 29 per cent respectively), followed at some distance by Murcia (24 per cent), while all the other regions had average or below average unemployment rates.

Unemployment Rates for III. Trimester 1995 (% of Labour Force)
Source: Anuario El País, 1996.

In 1993, the regional disposable family income per capita, i.e. after tax and regional redistribution, was less unemployment, but again Andalucía and Extremadura appear to be the most unequally distributed than disadvantaged regions with disposable incomes under 930 thousand pesetas, while the Baleares, Cataluña, Navarra, Madrid and La Rioja have over 1,300 thousand young people (aged 25 to 29) left the parental home earliest in the pesetas. Figures for 1991 show that Catalan-speaking regions, the richest and least unemployment-affected regions. On the other Cataluña, Valencia and Baleares, which are also hand, young people do not stay favoured regions; instead they cohabit longest with their parents in the longest with their parents in the less northern regions irrespective of income and between these regions. The regional patterns in young people's living unemployment differences arrangements seem to be related market, but also to the housing market situation, to patterns of not only to the situation on the labour educational participation and to the family and agricultural particularities of some regions. In Catalonia women tend to leave the parental home in order to form a dual-earner unemployment is relatively low, and the male labour market is couple in an employment context in which female characterised by a relatively low short-term employment women to be economically independent is probably the result of rate.

Annual Disposable Family Income per Capita in 1995
Source: Anuario El País, 1996.

The desire of high educational levels. The relatively good employment situation reduces the great difficulties which the Catalan housing market presents. The opposed cross-generational cohabitation patterns in the Basque Country can be understood in similar terms. Also there women show a tendency towards dual-earner family formation. This is a result of the educational level which is extremely high among Basque women, and to a lesser extent also among men, but in contrast to the Catalan situation the female unemployment rate in the Basque country is relatively high, and the inactivity rate is long-term job than Spaniards on the national average. lower. Besides, Basque men have more difficulties to find a Young Basques find themselves in difficult labour deal with the most discriminating regional housing market contexts, and they also have to market.


People Aged 25-29 Living with Parents/Parents-in-law in 1991 (% of age group)
Source: own elaboration with Encuesta Sociodemográfica 1991

The situation in Galicia and Andalucía is more complex, and the weight of agriculture in both regions plays an important role as well, but there are significant differences regarding the organisation and property structure of the agricultural sector in each of these two regions. The high Galician rate of young people staying in the family of origin is, above all, a result of the large number of young married people living with their parents or parents-in-law. The Galician context presents contradictory characteristics. On the one hand, the housing market is, in comparison, less disadvantageous and the situation regarding female employment does not seem to be worse than in other parts of Spain. On the other hand, the Galician labour market offers few possibilities of stable employment for men, and the inactivity rates of young women are high. In addition, young Galician women are less likely than the Basques or Catalans to be employed when they form a new family. Another factor contributing to the low employment rate of young Galician women is the relatively low female educational level. Moreover, Galicia stands out because of the weight of farming families which is greater than in other regions. The tradition of patrilocality seems to have persisted due to the continuation of agrarian production and seems to be used as a strategy to cope with the employment difficulties of young men. Andalucía clearly has one of the most difficult youth labour markets, for women as well as for men, but simultaneously it also has the most favourable housing market situation. Both configurations seem to counteract one another with respect to their effects on leaving the parental home. In addition, the low educational levels attained by young Andalusian women and men pushes them in the direction of early family formation even if the economic context is difficult. Another consequence seems to be the lower propensity of Andalusian women to become economically independent, in contrast to Basque women. Unlike in Galicia, farmers with small holdings and the tradition of patrilocality are not relevant in Andalucía. By contrast, agricultural workers, especially day labourers, with their practices of early and neolocal family formation, are a significant minority.

National Statistical Institute:
Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE), Paseo de la Castellana, 183, E-28046 Madrid, Spain (Central office), Information office ( 34-1-583 94 12, Fax: 34-1-583 91 58, Internet address: Publications are not directly distributed by the INE, instead of two distributors: Lines Chiel, Plaza Virgen del Romero, 6, 28027 Madrid, ( 34-1-403 12 11, Fax 34-1-326 79 72. DOR (Distribuciones Oficiales Reunidas S.A.), camino de Hormigueras, 124, Planta 6; naves E y F, 28031 Madrid, ( 34-1-380 28 75, Fax 34-1-380 34 40. INE publishes an annual "Catálogo de Publicaciones" which lists also older titles, and monthly "Publicaciones aparecidas". Recent publications are also included in the INE homepage.

Social Science Research Institutions:
Centre d’Estudis Demogràfics, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193 Bellaterra (Barcelona), ( 34-3-5813060.
Centro de Investigaciones Sociologicas (CIS), C/Montalbán 8, 28014 Madrid, ( 34-1-580 7600, Fax 34-1-580 76 19, Internet:
Instituto de Estudios Sociales Avanzados (IESA), Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Scientíficas (CSIC), Alfonso XII, 18 5°, 28014 Madrid, ( 5219028, 5219160, Fax 5218103, Internet:
Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Ciencias Sociales (CEACS), Instituto Juan March de Estudios e Investigaciones, Castelló 77, 28006 MADRID, ESPAÑA ( 341-435-42-40, Fax 341-576-34-20, E-mail:, Internet: /center.htm
Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociología, Campo de Somosaguas, 28223 Madrid, ( 3942955, Fax 3942841, Internet address:
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Facultad de Económicas, Departamento de Sociología y Antropología Social, Ciudad Universitaria de Cantoblanco, Ctra. De Colmenar Viejo, km. 15, 28049 Madrid, ( 397 43 07/397 43 00, Fax 397 51 56, Internet:
Fundación FOESSA, Fomento de Estudios Sociales y de Sociología Aplicada, San Bernardo, 99 bis, 7.o, 28015 Madrid
Centro de Investigaciones sobre la Realidad Social (CIRES), Paseo de la Castellana 173, 5.° Izquierda, 28046 Madrid, ( (34-1), Fax (34-1)

Social Science and Political Journals:
Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas (Reis) (CIS, quarterly, ISSN 0210-5233); Papeles de Economia Española (Fundación de las Cajas de Ahorros Confederadas para la Investigación Económica y Social, Madrid, quarterly, ISSN 0210-9107); Revista de Estudios Políticos (Centro de Estudios Constitucionales, Madrid, quarterly, ISSN 0048-7694); Revista Internacional de Sociología (IESA, 4monthly, ISSN 0034-9712); Papers. Revista de Sociologia (Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona, 4monthly); Politica y Sociedad. Revista Cuatrimestral de Ciencias Sociales (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociología).

Further general readings:
  • Campo, Salustiano del (ed.) 1994: Tendencias Sociales en España (1960-1990). 2nd ed. Bilbao: Fundación BBV.
  • Delgado Pérez, M. and M. Livi-Bacci 1992: Fertility in Italy and Spain: The Lowest in the World, Family Planning Perspectives 24 (4), 162-171.
  • European Commission 1994: The economic and financial situation in Spain, European Economy (7).
  • Guillén, Ana María 1992: Social policy in Spain from dictatorship to democracy (1939-1982), 119-142. In: Y. Ferge and J. E. Kolberg (eds.), Social Policy in a Changing Europe. Frankfurt/M. and Boulder: Campus and Westview Press.
  • Holman, Otto 1996: Integrating Southern Europe. EC Expansion and the Transnationalization of Spain. London/New York: Routledge.
  • Juárez, Miguel (dir.) 1994: V Informe Sociológico Sobre la Situación Social en España. Sociedad Para Todos en el Año 2000. Madrid: Fundación FOESSA.
  • Kern, Robert 1995: The Regions of Spain: A Reference Guide to History and Culture. Westport/London: Greenwood Press.
  • Moltó, María Luisa 1994: Changing Patterns of Work and Working-time for Men and Women in Spain: Towards the Integration or the Segmentation of the Labour Market. Manchester: Manchester School of Management, University of Manchester.
  • Nohlen, Dieter and Andrea Hildenbrand 1992: Spanien. Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft, Politik. Opladen: Leske+Budrich.
  • OECD 1996: OECD Economic Surveys, 1995-1996: Spain. Paris: OECD.
  • Pérez Yruela, M. and C. J. Navarro Yáñez 1995: Unemployment in Spain, Scandinavian Journal of Social Welfare (4), 162-173.
  • Reher, David S. 1997: Perspectives on the Family in Spain: Past and Present. Oxford: Clarendon Press.