Income and origins sway support for independence

The majority in favor of breaking away from Spain are established Catalan families with high incomes

Pro-independence demonstrators during the celebrations for the 2017 Diada.
Pro-independence demonstrators during the celebrations for the 2017 Diada.Sandra Montanez (Getty Images)

When the subject of independence is broached, reference is often made to the fact that Catalonia is rich; see, for example, this article in The Economist. But the fact that independence is more popular among the wealthier sections of the Catalan population is often ignored.

According to data from the Catalan regional government's Opinion Studies Center (CEO), a total of 32% of Catalans on less than €900 a month are in favor of Catalonia splitting from Spain. Meanwhile, the majority (53%) of those with a a monthly salary of over €1,800 are in favor of independence, while 54% of those on more than €4,000 a month want the region to go it alone.

This divide was flagged up by a survey of 1,500 potential Catalan voters: secession is only popular among those describing themselves as “comfortably off”. Among those “with a lot of difficulties” making ends meets, only a third were in favor of breaking away from Spain.

According to the survey, the majority of Catalans who don’t want independence are out of work or retired, or who described themselves as “low-income” or “middle-to-low income” earners.

There is greater support for independence, on the other hand, among civil servants and university graduates, an indicator of higher income potential.

The link between income and independence is indisputable. But what are the reasons behind it? Possibly people in a worse economic situation have other priorities or simply prefer to avoid uncertainty linked to the independence process. But there is also a factor that alienates less well-off people from the Catalan independence movement – their origins.

Independence and family background

Catalans who were born outside Catalonia are on lower incomes and are less likely to support independence. The same can be said of their children. To start with, let’s take a look at the relationship between background and income. Catalans who were born in other regions of Spain are on lower incomes: 37% live on less than €1,200 a month and only 10% have a household income of more than €2,400.

Contrast this with Catalans born in Catalonia: only 20% earn less than €1,200 and 25% earn more than €2,400.

Even more glaring is the relationship between background and pro-independence sentiment. Among third generation Catalans – those with both parents and all four grandparents born in Catalonia – support for independence rises to 75%. But this figure drops drastically when it comes to families with more varied backgrounds. Support for independence stands at 49% among those with one parent from outside the region and drops to 29% among children of immigrants. Curiously, none of the 12 most common surnames in the region is indigenous.

These figures illustrate two related phenomena: independence is less popular among poor families and among those who have lived for a shorter time in the region – often one and the same. Catalonian society is divided over independence, but this split concerns background and income. The last graph illustrates this division.

Two elements are flagged up by the graph above. The first is that the “income factor” is linked to background – and the higher the income, the greater support for independence among people with the same background. This is evident from the third line in the graph showing those born in Catalonia with one parent from outside the region – in this group support for independence is less than 50% for those on less than €1,800 and 60% for those on higher incomes.

The second element is the polarization of Catalonian society regarding independence, according to income and background. In the bottom left corner of the graph are the Catalans with a background outside the region and low incomes, who are mostly against independence. In the top right corner are the wealthier Catalans who have been established in the region for generations. They are overwhelmingly in favor of independence.

English version by Heather Galloway.


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