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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Immigrants May Not Be Contributing Much to Spain's Fertility Levels

Until the 1970s, Spain had one of the highest fertility levels in Europe, with women bearing an average of nearly 3 children each. However, the bottom fell out in the 1970s and by the 1980s fertility had dropped below replacement level. Today fertility is very low--scarcely more than one child per woman--and so the question arises as to whether immigrants might provide a boost. A paper just out in Demographic Research by Amparo González-Ferrer, Teresa Castro-Martín, Elisabeth Katharina Kraus, and Tatiana Eremenko suggests that the answer might be no.

Now, to be sure, they offer evidence that immigration during the economic boom just before the Great Recession may have pushed Spanish fertility up a bit, but after the economic collapse many people left Spain because of the high rate of unemployment, and so the immigrant picture is different now than it was for that brief period of time.

In particular, their analysis of survey data suggests that most immigrant women mimic the Spanish pattern of significantly delaying the first birth--the average age at first birth in Spain is now in the low 30s. Women from Morocco are the only exception to this rule, and many of them are "traditional" wives who married a man who had previously migrated to Spain for work and then sought out a wife back home in Morocco.

Overall, the authors conclude that:
Although forecasting the future is beyond the scope of this paper, our findings challenge the widespread belief that immigrants’ childbearing alone will allow Spain to leave behind the current lowest-low and latest-late fertility scenario.
This suggests that it is not simply the case that migrants bring higher fertility with them to low fertility countries. The environment into which migrants are arriving and their own characteristics play important roles. Put another way, it might be incorrect to compare what is happening in the U.S. with what is happening in Spain.


  1. Very interesting, thank you. I actually live in Madrid and it is interesting to see how very few young ethnic Spaniards there are. Walking by schools there are large numbers of children born here, I think, but whose parents came from Latin America and China. It is a curious thing to look at the beautiful city and the great artistic achievements of the Spaniards while also realizing that they, as a people, have effectively decided to breed themselves out of existence.

    1. Your comment made me realize that I haven't been in Madrid since 1991!! I'm guessing that it's changed a bit since then...