POPULATION: by Alejandro Macarrón LarumbeNews Weekly
Causes of Spain's demographic suicide
, August 4, 2012
Spain is suffering a major crisis as severe as its economic recession, but ultimately far more dangerous, to which very little attention is paid — the demographic crisis.
According to data recently published by Spain’s national bureau of statistics, the Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE), 3.5 per cent fewer children were born last year in Spain than in 2010. Fertility fell to the paltry rate of 1.35 children per woman, and 1.31 or less for native Spanish women.
In 21 out of 50 Spanish provinces, more people died than were born; and, without the contribution of infants born to immigrants, the number of provinces with declining populations would have been about 40.
The population of native Spaniards and others living in Spain is already shrinking, although still not by much, in a process that will tend to accelerate. Meanwhile, Spain is greying more and more. The average age of the Spanish people is increasing unabated, at a rate of one year in age every four years. This is the demographic suicide of Spain.
With a bit of luck, hard work and substantive economic reforms, in 2014 or 2015, we will live in economic circumstances much less dark than now.
For all of Spain’s political woes — such as profligate autonomous regions that have led the country to the verge of bankruptcy, or very powerful political parties with no internal democracy — there are praiseworthy initiatives under way. One of them, called “Reconversión”, seeks to create in a few years’ time a political and legal framework far superior to the current one, which has led to economic ruin and the grave risk of national dislocation. (People can subscribe to its principles by signing in at www.reconversion.es).
However, if Spain’s birth rate does not recover, we will not escape from the demographic death spiral to which we have condemned ourselves ever since we collectively decided to ignore, by not having children, the most basic of all instincts — survival.
With such a low birth rate, our society has “liberated” the human and economic resources that it could have otherwise devoted to raising the children and youth that we need to ensure population replacement. This has allowed our economy to grow in the last 30 years far more than if birth rates had not plummeted since the late 1970s.
However, for the same reason, after a full generation of a low birth rate in Spain, young people are becoming scarce. And aside from the current economic crisis, the worker-to-retiree ratio is deteriorating every year. Our long-term prospects resemble those of a company that has gone on for many years without reinvesting some of its resources in the replacement of its assets that are becoming obsolete.
This is an abuse of the saying, Carpe diem (“Seize the day”), and is similar to the suicidal attitude of just enjoying life and not caring about the future found in the classic Aesop fable of the grasshopper. Hence, a large proportion of our past GDP growth has been achieved at the expense of our future.
By the way, Germany is in even worse demographic shape than Spain. In 1910, at the time of Europe’s Belle Époque, two million children were born in Germany every year. A century later, with 50 per cent more people, fewer than 700,000 are born annually, of whom over 200,000 have foreign-born parents. And in the last 40 years, four million more Germans died than were born.
Italy, Greece, Portugal and Austria, along with other countries in Europe, have an alarming demographic profile as well. Indeed, no European country — except Ireland, and even here not completely — is in a good enough shape with respect to ageing and birth rates.
This has much to do with the structurally low growth rate of the European economy for several decades, and with the current crisis of the euro.
There is no way around this issue. Either many more children need to be born in Spain and other nations with a similar shortage — that is, nearly all industrialised countries and most of the developing world. Or else our society will, in many ways, face a grey future — the colour of grey, aged hair.
We can overcome the current major recession with substantial reforms and effort, but we cannot avoid our population downturn unless we have more children.
Without the most valuable resource that exists, the human being, there will be no prosperity or anything in Spain in the future, except cemeteries or abandoned villages.
Alejandro Macarrón Larumbe is a management and corporate finance consultant, and is author of the book El Suicidio Demográfico de España (“Spain’s Demographic Suicide).