Spain has since the 1980s developed from an immigrant country to an immigrant country. However, immigration began to decline from the end of the first decade of the 2000s when the economic crisis hit Spain (see Modern History), and more and more Spaniards themselves have moved abroad in search of jobs.
Madrid is Spain’s most densely populated region, followed by the coastal regions and archipelagos of the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands. Andalusia has the largest population in the south, but in the same year together with the inland regions Castile-La Mancha and Castile-León belonged to those who lost the most residents. Both Castile, together with Aragon and Extremadura, have over half of the country’s area but barely a sixth of the population. The depopulation of the countryside is a major problem.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Key populations estimated size and data of Spain, including population density of how many people per square mile. Also included are facts for population and language.
A large majority of Spaniards are of Ibero-Roman origin and have the Castilian form of Spanish as their mother tongue or second language (see below).
Low birth rates
Life expectancy in Spain is among the highest in the world. According to the government, the proportion of people over 64 years is estimated to account for almost a third of the population in 2050. In order to cope with the strain on the economy, the government decided in 2011 to raise the retirement age (see Labor market).
At the same time, birth rates are low, so the Spaniards raise children late, not least for financial reasons. 2017 was the average age for women when they gave birth to their first child 32 years. Every fifth child born in 2018 had a mother who was born abroad.
From 2012 to 2015, the number of residents decreased. Since 2016, the population has started to increase again, albeit at a slow rate, thanks in large part to immigration.
During the 1980s, increasing immigration led to a population increase. In 2001, the then right-wing government tightened the rules on immigration, citing the need for labor. 2005 saw a new reversal when the Socialist government granted work and residence permits to just over half a million immigrants who were illegally staying in the country.
In 2011, the proportion of immigrants decreased for the first time since the end of the 1990s due to the economic crisis (see Economic overview and Labor market). In the years that followed, many immigrants remained in the country despite the difficulties in obtaining jobs and despite the fact that the Spanish government implemented special measures to facilitate their return to their home countries. After that, hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals left Spain. Unemployment also made more and more native Spaniards leave the country. Many of them were young and university educated but many older academics also left. In January 2018, 2.5 million Spaniards were estimated to live abroad. After that, immigration has regained momentum, and now more Spaniards are returning home than leaving the country.
The largest individual nationality among immigrants was Moroccans, followed by Romanians, British, Italians and Chinese. Many have also come from various Latin American countries. In 2018, Venezuelans were the largest immigrant group.
Many of the immigrants work in low-paid service professions and Spain suffers from a shortage of skilled labor.
In 2015, a law was passed which meant that Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors were forced to leave Spain in 1492, could apply for Spanish citizenship. By the fall of 2019, 6,000 had become Spanish nationals, from above all Morocco, Venezuela and Turkey, but significantly more have applied (see Calendar).
Refugees and migrants
In 2017, the number of asylum-seekers and other migrants who traveled to Spain from across the Mediterranean increased. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 21,500 people had arrived during the year, compared to just over 6,000 in 2016. However, the figure does not include the people who entered Spain via the exclaves Ceuta and Melilla. The number continued to increase to just over 64,000 in 2018. This happened to a great extent since other EU countries, not least Italy, had begun to implement a more restrictive policy on receiving asylum seekers / migrants. At the same time, more and more asylum seekers have also come to Spain from Venezuela, Honduras and Colombia. In 2019, the refugee / emigrant flow to Spain decreased. During the first nine months of the year, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, 23,400 people came to the country,Democracy and Rights).
In the context of the refugee crisis in 2015, Spain promised to receive 9,323 people from Greece and Italy, according to the quota system established by the EU at that time, but by May 2018, the country had only received 1,359 people.
Anyone seeking asylum is often taken to one of the country’s seven defense units, where a decision must be made within 60 days. In 2018 there were reports that there were no places at the repository, and that many asylum seekers were able to manage on their own, without the support of Spanish authorities. In September 2019, the authorities estimated that there were about 14,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Spain, a sharp increase since 2016, when they were 4,000. have no right to work.
Castilian (Spanish) is the official language throughout Spain. Catalan, as well as Valencian and Balearic variants of this, are like Galician and Basque official languages within their respective regions. Spanish, Catalan and Galician belong to the Ibero-Romanian language group. Catalan is closely related to Provencal, which is spoken on the French side of the Pyrenees, while Galician is close to the Portuguese.
The pre-European Basque whiskey is not like any other now living language. During the Franco dictatorship 1939–75 (see Older history), the regional languages were banned and only allowed back in 1978.
FACTS – POPULATION AND LANGUAGE
Spaniards (incl. Catalans, Galician and Basque) 1
Number of residents
46 572 028 (2017)
Number of residents per square kilometer
Percentage of residents in the cities
80.1 percent (2017)
Nativity / birth
8.7 per 1000 residents (2016)
Mortality / mortality
8.8 per 1000 residents (2016)
0.2 percent (2017)
1.3 number of births per woman (2016)
Percentage of women
51.0 percent (2017)
83 years (2016)
Life expectancy for women
86 years (2016)
Life expectancy for men
80 years (2016)
Spanish / Castilian, Catalan, Galician, Basque
- Immigrants (mainly originating from Latin America, other EU countries and Morocco) about 10-12%, small groups of Jews and Roma
The new PP government continues with the savings policy
Mariano Rajoy takes up as prime minister while unemployment figures for the fourth quarter show close to 23 percent. The new government presents austerity measures with frozen salaries, tax increases and budget cuts. The goal is to reduce the budget deficit from 8 percent to around 4.4 percent in 2012, according to EU requirements.
PP wins the parliamentary elections
The People’s Party (PP) wins a landslide victory in the election with 45 percent of the vote and gets its own majority in Congress, 186 out of 350 seats. The ruling Social Democratic Party PSOE loses more than a third of its votes and stays at just under 29 percent and 110 seats in the House of Commons. PP leader Mariano Rajoy is allowed to form government.
New protests against the savings policy
Tens of thousands of protesters protest in Madrid against the government’s cuts in education budget.
ETA stops all military activity
The Basque separatist movement ETA announces in a written communique that it is definitely ceasing its military activity.
Protests against pope visits
Thousands of people in Madrid protest against Pope Benedict’s visit to the Spanish capital on the occasion of International Youth Day. The protesters believe it is wrong to have an expensive pope visit during the economic crisis.
Budget deficit limit is constitutionally protected
Government and opposition agree that a limit on the state and regional budget deficits should be entered in the Constitution. From 2020, the general government deficit should not exceed 0.4 percent of GDP. In the state budget it must be limited to 0.26 percent and in the regions to 0.14 percent.
The EU approves temporary restrictions on free movement
The European Commission allows temporary Spanish restrictions on the free movement of Romanians, since Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the EU. The intention is to protect the local workforce, and the decision is based on a so-called safety clause that can be used in the event of serious disruptions in the labor market.
Protests against the government’s economic policy continue
Protests continue against high unemployment and the government’s handling of the economic crisis. At least 20 people are injured in clashes between the police and protesters in Madrid.
ETA leaders sentenced to long prison sentences
ETA’s former military leader, Aspiazu Rubina, is sentenced to 377 years for 20 attempted murder and several other terrorist acts. He was arrested in France in 2008.
Zapatero announces parliamentary elections early
Following demands from the opposition and market turmoil for the Spanish economy, Prime Minister Zapatero decides that parliamentary elections will be held in November, four months earlier than planned. In opinion polls, the opposition clearly leads the government. According to Zapatero, a new government should address the country’s financial problems from the turn of the year.
Big protests against the government’s savings program
A total of more than 100,000 people protest in Madrid and Barcelona, among others, against the government’s budget cuts, the economic crisis and unemployment.
New protest movement is formed
Ahead of the regional and local elections in May, the protest movement Los indignados (The Indignant) is formed, which spread rapidly throughout Spain and also abroad under the name Movimiento 15-M (Movement 15-M) after the date of May 15 when it is founded. It brings together hundreds of thousands of people, mostly young people, for peaceful demonstrations and tent camps in various cities around Spain. They object to the cuts and the EU’s demands on Spain, and thus defy the demonstration ban introduced before the elections.
ETA forms a new party
The Basque separatist movement ETA’s political branch Batasuna announces that it has formed a new party that abstains from violence and threats of all forms and plans to take part in elections.
The retirement age is being raised
The government decides to increase the retirement age incrementally from 65 to 67 years starting in 2013.
ETA announces ceasefire
The Basque separatist guerrilla ETA declares permanent ceasefire. The Spanish government remains skeptical. Political analysts see ETA’s play as an attempt to get the Batasuna political branch recognized for the upcoming local and regional elections.