Spain Regional Disparities
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
Spain is more a subcontinent than a country, and its climate, geography, and history produced a state that was little more than a federation of regions until Philip V, a grandson of Louis XIV, brought the centralization of the Bourbon monarchy to the country in the eighteenth century (see Bourbon Spain , ch. 1). Modernday Spain contains a number of identifiable regions, each with its own set of cultural, economic, and political characteristics. In many instances, the loyalty of a population is still primarily to its town or region, and only secondarily to the abstract concept of "Spain." Administratively, Spain is organized into seventeen autonomous communities comprising fifty provinces (see fig. 7). However, when an autonomous community is made up of only one province, provinccial institutions have been transferred to the autonomous community.
On the map, the Iberian Peninsula resembles a slightly distorted square with the top bent toward the east and spread wide where it joins the rest of Europe. In the center lies the densely populated Spanish capital, Madrid, surrounded by the harsh, sparsely populated Meseta Central. King Philip II made Madrid the capital of Castile (Spanish, Castilla) in the sixteenth century, partly because its remoteness made it an uncontroversial choice (see Charles V and Philip II , ch. 1). The city, surrounded by a demographic desert, in the late 1980s was still regarded by many Spaniards as an "artificial" capital even though it had long been established as the political center of the country.
Around the periphery of the peninsula are the peoples that have competed with Castilians for centuries over control of Iberia: in the west, the Portuguese (the only group successful in establishing its own state in 1640); in the northwest, the Galicians; along the northern coast of the Bay of Biscay, the Asturians; and, as the coast nears France, the Basques; along the Pyrenees, the Navarrese and the Aragonese; in the northeast, the Catalans; in the east, the Valencians; and in the south, the Andalusians. Although most of these peoples would decline to identify themselves first, foremost, and solely as "Spanish," few of them would choose to secede from Spain. Even among Basques, whose separatist sentiment ran deepest in the late 1980s, those advocating total independence from Spain probably comprised only one-fifth of the ethnic Basque population. Whereas culture provided the centrifugal force, economic ties linked the regions together more closely than an outsider might conclude from their rhetoric.
Spain's seventeen regions, defined by the 1978 Constitution as autonomous communities, vary greatly in size and population, as well as in economic and political weight (see table 4, Appendix). For example, Andalusia (Spanish, Andalucia), nearly the size of Portugal, encompasses 17 percent of Spain's land area. The two regions carved out of sparsely populated Castile--Castilla-La Mancha (larger than Ireland) and Castilla y Leon (larger than Austria)--account for 15.6 and 18.7 percent, respectively, of Spain's total area. These three large regions combined account for about 52 percent of the country's total territory. No other autonomous region contains more than 10 percent of the total. The three richest, most densely populated and most heavily industrialized regions--Madrid, Catalonia (Spanish, Cataluna; Catalan, Catalunya), and the Basque Country (Spanish, Pais Vasco; Basque Euskadi)--together account for 9.3 percent of the total. The remaining 40 percent is made up of two medium-sized regions--Aragon (Spanish, Aragon) and Extremadura--each of which holds 8 to 9 percent, and seven much smaller regions that together account for about 20 percent of the national territory. Regional economic disparities between "Rich Spain" and "Poor Spain" were also highly significant, and they continued to shape the country's political debate despite a century of efforts to redistribute the wealth of the country. Imagine a line drawn from about the middle of the north coast, in Asturias, southeastward to Madrid, and then to Valencia. To the north and east of the line lived the people of Rich Spain, sometimes referred to as "Bourgeois Spain," an area already substantially modernized, industrialized, and urbanized, where the transition to an information and services economy was already well under way in the 1980s. To the south and west of the line lay Poor Spain, or "Traditional Spain," where agriculture continued to dominate and where semi-feudal social conditions could still be found. To aggravate this cleavage still further, Rich Spain, with the exception of Madrid, tended to be made up disproportionately of people who felt culturally different from the Castilians and not really "Spanish" at all.
Indicators of economic disparity are stark reminders that not all Spaniards shared in the country's economic miracle. The autonomous communities of Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Madrid accounted for half of Spain's gross national product (GNP--see Glossary) in the late 1980s. Income per capita was only 55 percent of the Catalan level in Extremadura, 64 percent in Andalusia, and 70 percent in Galicia. In Galicia, 46 percent of the population still worked on the land; in Extremadura and the two Castilian regions, 30 to 34 percent did so; but in Catalonia and the Basque Country, only 6 percent depended on the land for their livelihood. In Andalusia, unemployment exceeded 30 percent; in Aragon and in Navarre (Spanish, Navarra) it ran between 15 and 20 percent. A 1987 report by Spain's National Statistics Institute revealed that the country's richest autonomous community, Madrid, exceeded its poorest, Extremadura, by wide margins in every economic category. With the national average equal to zero, Madrid's standard of living measured 1.7 while Extremadura scored -2.0; in family income, the values were Madrid 1.0, Extremadura, -2.1; in economic development, Madrid, 1.7, Extremadura, -2.0; and in endowment in physical and human resources, Madrid, 1.4, Extremadura, -1.7.
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 Regional Disparities information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Spain Regional Disparities should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.