Deaths will outnumber births in Spain by 2017, experts say

The Catholic nation is just over three years away from negative population growth, according to a new government study.
By Ben Johnson

By Ben Johnson

BARCELONA, December 17, 2013 ( – The Catholic kingdom of Spain once ruled the sea but demographers are warning that if current birth trends continue, Spain as we know it will gradually be washed away. 

If population trends continue apace, researchers say that Spain will cross the line to a nation that is literally dying, with the number of deaths outweighing births. 

The National Statistics Institute (INE) published its findings in the report "Projections for the Spanish Population 2013-23," released last month. They found that by 2017, there will be an estimated 397,714 births and 404,054 deaths.

Spain's population is already in decline, plunging by 206,000 people last year, to 47.1 million.

The Mediterranean nation is experiencing a massive population change, due to a high immigrant population and a birthrate that ranks among Europe's lowest.

Spain has a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 1.48 children per woman, below the 2.1 replacement level necessary to keep population stable. Only 10,000 native Spaniards were born in 2012.

Some demographers tie a low birthrate to secularism. More than half – 55.3 percent – of the Spanish population attends religious services “seldom or never.”

But these numbers only tell half the story. The other half is that immigrants, who make up a large and growing share of the population, are no longer finding the nation a suitable destination.

"Around 90 percent of population growth in Europe is due to immigration," Teresa Castro of the CSIC Spanish National Research Council's Human and Social Sciences Center, told the newspaper El Pais.

Between 2002 and 2008, immigrants accounted for 75 percent of Spain's population growth (3.3 million). Since 1990, the immigrant population has increased 772 percent, from two percent of the population to 14 percent; or in raw numbers, from 829,000 to 6.4 million. The largest populations are from Romania, Morocco, and South America. Spain is also seeing a growing number of illegal immigrants from Africa.

While many welcome the foreign workers as a source of labor to supplement the nation's dwindling workforce, others find growing issues, such as a creeping Islamization of the nation once occupied by the Moors.

But immigration levels have crashed in the wake of the economic collapse gripping the nation. Spain has became the terminal letter of the acronym PIGS: Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain – the four countries whose fiscal crises threaten to tank the economy of the entire European Union.

"Spain is less attractive because there are no jobs," Albert Esteve of the Barcelona Centre for Demographic Studies told Spain National Radio, according to Reuters.

But even if those immigration levels could be restored, the RAND Corporation found in an analysis that “immigration is not a feasible way of reversing population aging or its consequences.”

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The debt crisis and dismal financial prospects hurt native-born Spanish most of all.

Spain continues to have one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU, at 26.7 percent. The problem is more pronounced for young people trying to start a family. One-half of Spain's population under 25 are unemployed.

Because of these factors, another 2.6 million Spaniards will emigrate from the country, further shrinking the population, according to the INE report. In all, analysts expect twice as many people to leave Spain as to migrate there over the next decade.

RAND places the blame squarely on government policy.

“A generation ago (in 1971), Spain’s fertility was among the highest in Europe,” the report states. “The dramatic decline in fertility since then is associated with a shift from the pronatalist [Generalissimo Francisco] Franco regime — which banned contraception and encouraged large families — to a democratic regime that has no explicit population policy.”

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