First half of 2018 sees lowest number of births in Spain since 1941

A record number of deaths, the economic crisis and late motherhood have all had an effect on statistics

Two seniors in Madrid’s Retiro Park.
Two seniors in Madrid’s Retiro Park.Jaime Villanueva

The natural demographic decline in Spain has reached a historic high, according to provisional data released by the country’s National Statistics Institute (INE) on Tuesday. In the first half of 2018, there were just 179,794 births in Spain, the lowest figure for the same period since records began in 1941, and 5.8% down from the first six months of 2017.

What’s more, the number of deaths has also grown: in the first half a total of 226,384 people passed away. That’s the highest figure since 1941, when the population of Spain was 26 million. January saw a particularly high mortality rate. The natural growth for Spain – i.e. live births minus deaths – came in at -46,590, a statistical record.

For fertility to rise there need to be conditions allowing couples to have a sense of security in terms of their medium-term financial outlook

Daniel Devolder, Barcelona Autonomous University

The negative trend began in 2015, and is forecast to last into the future. Childbirths fell compared to last year in all of Spain’s regions, but the highest drops were seen in La Rioja (-13.7%), Extremadura (-10.3%) and Cantabria (-7.8%).

“It is no surprise to see the number of births continue to fall,” explains Diego Ramiro, the head of the Population Department at the Institute of Economy, Geography and Demography (IEGD), which is part of the state-funded Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). He points out that the women currently in their fertile period were born from 1978 onward, “a small generation,” who were born in a time of low fertility. Since 1981, the birth rate has come in at below 2.1 babies per woman, which is the minimum needed to guarantee generational replacement. That figure in Spain currently comes in at 1.3, which has led to a progressively ageing population.

A key factor in this change is that couples are having their first child later in life, something that reduces the probability of people having more children, according to Daniel Devolder, from the Demographic Studies Center at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. During the year 2017, first-time mothers were on average aged 32.1 in Spain, a record high. “The rise in the age when women are having their first child is the main problem that is affecting Spain’s fertility rate,” Devolder explains.

It is no surprise to see the number of births continue to fall

Diego Ramiro, IEGD

The economy has played a key role in this decline. The birth rate in Spain came in at the highest in three decades in 2008, with 519,779 births. Since then, “the number of births has fallen at a rhythm of between 3% and 5% on an annual basis,” explains Devolder. According to Ramiro, studies carried out at the CSIC have shown that the economic crisis drastically reduced the fertility rate among workers on temporary contracts and the unemployed, although not so much among employees on fixed contracts. “For fertility to rise there need to be conditions that allow couples to have a sense of security in terms of their medium-term financial outlook,” he says.

Despite the negative natural growth rate, the population of Spain – around 46.6 million – is rising due to immigration. One in every five babies that were born in Spain during the first half of 2018 had a mother from abroad. They contributed roughly the same as last year to the birth rate, with the general decline this year attributed to the fall in births by Spanish mothers.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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