Article

Immigration is revitalising rural Spain

Luis Camarero, UNED; Rosario Sampedro, Universidad de Valladolid; Adapted by Lluís Reales;

Rural Spain is characterised by its low population density, with a significant decline due to the 2008 crisis. However, the arrival of foreign citizens has slowed down this depopulation. As happened at the beginning of this century, since 2017 there has been a degree of demographic recovery of rural areas in Spanish municipalities of less than 10,000 inhabitants, although the number of deaths still exceeds the number of births. The trends of migratory flows show an increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan rural environment in which foreign mothers and the reunification of families with children contribute significantly to generational renewal.
Key points
  • 1
       The crisis of 2008 halted migratory flows and the arrival of immigrants in rural areas, increased the flight of young people to the cities, and froze the reunification of foreign families. Since 2017, arrivals in rural areas have overtaken departures once again, although the absolute population has not increased, due to the number of deaths.
  • 2
       Population flows have changed the picture of the rural environment. In 2019, almost 10% of residents of Spanish municipalities with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants were born abroad. Within the 20 to 39 age group, the figure stands at 16%. Immigrants are rejuvenating rural Spain.
  • 3
       Rural reality in Spain is undergoing transformation. The higher birth rate of the immigrant population and family reunification are leading to the emergence of a more diverse and cosmopolitan society.
Demographic recovery thanks to immigrants
Demographic recovery thanks to immigrants

The settlement patterns of the foreign population paint a complex and changing picture. The maps show how, from 2001 to 2018, in spite of the decade of crisis, the percentage of the rural population born abroad increased significantly. This was the case in most Spanish provinces, except some areas of western Spain.

The territorial presence of foreign population follows a process of continuous spreading from rural locations in the Mediterranean coastal regions associated with intensive farming, construction, the hospitality industry and caregiving services, to more depopulated areas inland. The sequence of maps shows a clear flow from east to west and the progressive settlement of the immigrant population in more depopulated areas as a result of their incorporation into the care economy, in a setting of pronounced ageing, and small trading and industry, in a context of low presence of active population.

Generational replacement for the future

In Spain as a whole, 25% of children under the age of 13 are of foreign origin. The highest figures are for urban areas and municipalities with a population of under 1,000. In any event, around 20% of new generations in rural areas are of foreign parentage. In the 20 to 39 age group – the group most likely to have children – the figure stands at around 16%.

Moroccans and Romanians are the most numerous communities, although there are many different countries of origin. The diversity to be found in rural areas is evident, in contrast with the perception that exists of an immobile, permanent and local rural population.

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