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Spain Migration
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    The poverty of rural Spain led to a marked shift in population as hundreds of thousands of Spaniards moved out of the poor south and west in search of jobs and a better way of life. Between 1951 and 1981, more than 5 million Spaniards left Poor Spain, first for the prosperous economies of France and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), then for the expanding industrial regions of Spain itself. Nearly 40 percent, or 1.7 million, left Andalusia alone; another million left Castilla y Leon; and slightly fewer than 1 million left CastillaLa Mancha.

    By 1970 migrants accounted for about 26 percent of the population in Madrid, 23 percent in Barcelona, and more than 30 percent in the booming Basque province of Alava. In the years after Franco's death, when the economies of some of the industrial areas, especially the Basque region, began to sour, some tens of thousands of these people returned to their provinces of origin. The majority of the migrants of the 1960s and the 1970s, however, were husbands and wives who had moved their families with the idea of staying for a long period, if not permanently. Thus, the great bulk of the migrants stayed on to shape the culture and the politics of their adopted regions. In the long run, this may turn out to be the most significant impact of the Spanish economic miracle on the country's intractable regional disparities.

    During the last decade of the Franco era and the first decade of democracy, the population became steadily more urbanized, although Spain was already a fairly urban country even in the 1960s. Between 1965 and 1985, the population living in urban areas rose from 61 to 77 percent of the total, a level slightly higher than the average for the advanced industrial countries. Urbanization intensified during the 1960s and the 1970s, when cities grew at the rate of 2.4 percent annually, but the rate slowed to 1.6 percent during the first half of the 1980s. The mid-decennial census of April 1, 1986, showed that the Madrid area, accounting for 12.5 percent of the total population, continued to dominate the country. The six cities of over half a million--Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Seville, (Spanish, Sevilla), Valencia, Zaragoza--together accounted for approximately 19 percent (see table 5).

    A comparison of population densities among the provinces illustrates dramatically the drain of the rural population toward the major cities (see fig. 8). In 1981 Spain's overall population density was 79 persons per square kilometer, about the same as that of Greece or Turkey and far below the average of such heavily urbanized countries as West Germany. Population densities ranged, however, from the practically deserted interior Castilian provinces, like Soria (9 per square kilometer) and Guadalajara (12), to some of the most densely populated territory in Europe, such as Madrid (607 per square kilometer), Barcelona (592 per square kilometer), and Vizcaya (527 per square kilometer). In terms of the autonomous community system, four regions--Madrid (4.9 million people), Catalonia (6.0 million), Valencia (3.8 million), and Andalusia (6.9 million)--held 50 percent of the country's population in 1986. None of the remaining 13 autonomous regions had more than 2.8 million people.

    A comparison of regional population distribution changes from 1962 to 1982 shows clearly the effects of urbanization and the transformation of the work force. In this 20-year period, three regions increased their share of the country's population by three percentage points or more: Catalonia (from 13.1 to 16.6), Madrid (from 8.7 to 12.5), and Valencia (from 7.0 to 10.0). Several other regions, notably the Canary Islands and the Basque Country, registered moderate gains of about one percentage point. In contrast, the big losers (declines of three percentage points or more) were Andalusia (19.3 to 16.2) and Castilla y Leon (9.1 to 6.1). Other regions also losing their historical share of the country's population were Castilla-La Mancha, Galicia, and Extremadura. It is clear that during these two decades Spain's population balance shifted dramatically from the poor and rural provinces and regions to the much richer and more urbanized ones. Since the birth rates in the more modernized and more urbanized parts of the country tended to be even lower than the national average (the Spanish birth rate averaged between 14 and 15 per thousand in 1980-85, whereas the Basque Country rate averaged only 12), it is equally clear that this shift in the population balance was due principally to internal migration rather than to changes in birth rates.

    Internal migration concentrated primarily on the huge cities of Madrid and Barcelona in the 1960s and the 1970s, but by the 1980s a significant change began to appear in the migration data. An examination of the data for 1983 and 1984--years in which, respectively, 363,000 and 387,000 persons changed residence in Spain--revealed several trends. First, the major losers of population were small towns (of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants each), which sustained a combined net loss of about 10,000 people each year, and large cities (of more than 500,000), which together had a net annual loss of more than 20,000. Second, the major net gains in population were made by cities of between 100,000 and 500,000, which had a net annual increase of more than 20,000. Third, all the other town or city size categories either had stable populations or experienced only small losses or gains. Thus, while provinces like Barcelona, dominated by a single huge city, actually lost population (more than 15,000 people in each of the years 1983 and 1984), provinces like Seville or Las Palmas, with large cities that had not yet reached the bursting point, experienced significant net in-migration. This reflected a more mature form of population relocation than the simple frantic movement from the farm to Madrid or Barcelona that had characterized the earlier decades of the Spanish economic boom.

    Migration was significant not only between regions within the country but abroad as well. The movement of the Spanish population abroad resembled that of many Third World countries that sent large waves of migrants to Western Europe and to North America in the late 1960s and the early 1970s in search of better jobs and living standards and in response to labor shortages in the more advanced industrial countries. Between 1960 and 1985, nearly 1.3 million Spaniards emigrated to other West European countries. More than 500,000 went to Switzerland; more than 400,000, to West Germany; and about 277,000, to France. This flow of migrant workers reached its peak in the 1969 to 1973 period, when 512,000 Spanish citizens--some 40 percent of the entire 25-year total, an average of more than 102,000 each year-- migrated. Following the economic downturn in Europe in the mid-1970s, Spanish migration dwindled to between 10,000 and 20,000 each year, although there was a slight increase in the early 1980s in response to worsening economic conditions in Spain itself. In contrast, the late 1970s saw the return of many Spaniards from abroad, especially from Europe, as economic opportunities for Spaniards declined in Europe and as democracy returned to Spain. In the peak return year, 1975, some 110,000 Spaniards returned from Europe, and Spain's net emigration balance was minus 89,000.

    In 1987, according to the government's Institute on Emigration, more than 1.7 million Spanish citizens resided outside the country. About 947,000 lived in the Western Hemisphere, principally in Argentina (374,000), Brazil (118,000), Venezuela (144,000), and the United States (74,000). More than 750,000 Spanish citizens lived in other West European countries, primarily France (321,000), West Germany (154,000), and Switzerland (108,000). Aside from these two heavy concentrations, the only other significant Spanish populations abroad were in Morocco (10,000) and in Australia (22,500).

    Data as of December 1988

    NOTE: The information regarding Spain on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Spain Migration information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Spain Migration should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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