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SPANISH HABITS

Why do Spanish parents pierce their babies’ ears?

Piercing babies' ears is a controversial subject and one that people in many countries are very much against. In Spain however, it's common to see baby girls with pierced ears, so why do the Spanish do this?

Spanish babies typically wear earrings
Why do the Spanish pierce babies' ears? Photo: Javier Pincemin/Flickr

While in other European countries it may be more common to pierce children’s ears when they’re slightly older, in Spain it’s still a common tradition to pierce them shortly after birth, when they’re still babies.

While the issue does cause controversy for many, in Spain the matter of piercing a baby’s ears has been ingrained into the culture for decades if not centuries, passed down for many generations.

Spanish mothers who have had girls are often given a pair of baby earrings as a christening present for their little one.

It is also customary for the first gift from the grandparents of the girl to be a pair of gold studs.

READ ALSO: The strange things Spanish parents do raising their children

Often the presence of earrings on Spanish babies acts as a way of indicating whether the baby is a boy or a girl.

Many Spanish parents will be asked (typically by members of the older generations) if their child is a boy or a girl if they’re not wearing earrings. 

In fact, up until a few years ago, Spanish state hospitals would actually offer this service for babies who had recently been born.

These days however only private health centres offer this service, or it can get it done at some pharmacies and piercing salons. 

READ ALSO – Readers reveal: What it’s really like to give birth in Spain

How do Spain’s baby ear piercing rules and traditions compare to other countries?

In Latin American countries, India, as well as some nations in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa,  it’s considered a cultural or religious tradition to pierce a baby girl’s ears, one that’s harmless to the infant.

But in other Western countries it’s often frowned upon, with some parents putting it on a par with mutilation. 

In Germany for example, the legal age for getting piercings is 16 with your parent’s consent and 18 without, meaning that the subject of piercing a baby’s ears is not even talked about.

Despite many piercing salons imposing their own legal age restrictions and a 2015 petition against the practice that gathered more than 84,000 signatures, there is no UK-wide age limit for ear piercing.

The only law is in Scotland, where anyone wanting a piercing before the age of 16 must have their parent’s consent.

Spanish grandparents often give their granddaughters studs as a baptism gift. Photo: Celeste García M./Flickr

Even though there is no law against it, according to family news site MadeforMums, the average age for ear piercing in the UK is seven years old.

While it may be frowned upon and not practiced in many countries, few actually have a law prohibiting the piercing of babies’ ears.

Both Italy and Sweden for example have no official age limit.  

Is the tradition in Spain changing?

Up until recently piercing a baby girl’s ears was an almost unquestionable tradition in Spain. But views are gradually changing as more parents have started to question whether it’s really worth it just for the sake of cultural norms and not being asked by passers-by if the baby is a boy or a girl.

The fact that the service is no longer offered for free at public hospitals is also a reason for the drop in the number of parents getting their baby’s ears pierced.

There may be no law prohibiting the practice in Spain but it doesn’t mean that all piercing salons or pharmacies will agree to pierce a baby’s ears.

On Barcelona Babies & Kids Facebook group one parent wrote that many salons there will not pierce the ears of anyone under two years of age, while pharmacies will often do it for younger children. 

One reader told The Local Spain that she took her two-year-old sister (with her mother’s permission) to a piercing salon in Mallorca and they refused, stating that it would be too dangerous if she decided to turn her head.

Could it be that the tradition of piercing babies’ ears is slowly dying out in Spain? 

Is it safe to pierce babies’ ears?

Just like parents’ opinions on it, medical views on baby ear piercing also vary depending on who you ask or where you look.

The theory according to some medical professionals is that babies’ ears are much softer soon after they’ve been born, so they don’t feel as much pain as they would if you waited until they’re older.

According to midwife Maite Navarro, the ideal time to pierce a baby’s ears is a few weeks after birth. At that age “the skin of the lobe is softer, which greatly minimises the small discomfort it may suffer.” She recommends that the lobe be pierced during the first six months of life.

However, the Spanish midwife website susMatronas.com advises not to pierce your baby’s ears during the first two months of its life, because the size of the earlobe will change.

While the American Academy of Paediatrics, suggests “to postpone the piercing until your child is mature enough to take care of the pierced site herself”.

Some sources say there’s a possibility of infection, allergic reaction and other minor problems but the general consensus is that the risk is low. 

The Spanish Association of Paediatrics for families states that “from the point of view of paediatrics, there is no scientific study which has analysed this matter but deciding whether to pierce your baby’s ears is not a reason to see a doctor”.

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POLITICS

Which Catalans want independence from Spain?

Catalan separatist politicians have taken on kingmaker roles in Spanish politics in recent months, but Catalans themselves increasingly see independence as unlikely. Which Catalans still support independence and which don't?

Which Catalans want independence from Spain?

Catalan separatists are playing an increasingly crucial role in politics at the national level in Spain, but the vast majority of Catalans themselves see the prospect of independence as increasingly unlikely.

This is according to annual survey data released by the Institute of Political and Social Sciences (ICPS) in Catalonia, which revealed that just 5 percent of Catalans polled believe that an independent Catalonia will ever become a reality. In 2015 that figure was 17 percent.

The survey also confirmed that support for independence (39.5 percent) remains well below support for staying within Spain (52.5 percent). Catalans will go to the polls in regional elections on May 12th in a vote many view as crucial for the stability of the national government.

Catalan pro-independence parties, namely Junts per Cataluyna and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, have essentially become kingmakers in Spanish politics following July 2023’s general election result and subsequent amnesty deal offered by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to cling onto power.

READ ALSO:

Often when the Catalan question is discussed, particularly in the context of national politics, broad strokes statements are made about the people and politics in the region. Catalans are all separatists, some say. Some even say they are terrorists, or that only far-left radicals want independence.

But who really still wants independence? What are the demographics behind Catalan separatism, and what does it tell us about the future of the movement?

Age breakdown

A study by the Generalitat revealed that younger voters, between 16- 42, generally show less enthusiasm for independence than older voters. Young people are more likely to show preference for the current model (of Catalonia as a region within Spain) rather than full independence, according to a survey by the Catalan Centre for Opinion Studies (CEO) cited by El País.

CEO polling groups respondents by age, the ‘silent generation’ (over 78); ‘baby boomers’ (between 59 and 77); ‘generation X’ (between 43 and 58); ‘millennials’ (between 27 and 42) and ‘generation Z’ (between 16 and 26).

The results were stark. When asked “what should be the relationship between Catalonia and Spain” the preference for independence only exceeded 30 percent among baby boomers (34 percent) and generation X (32 percent). But even within these age groups, the most pro-independence, a fully-independent Catalonia barely convinced more than a quarter to a third of respondents.

Among younger people, however, regional autonomy was the preferred option for millennials (28 percent) and generation Z (29 percent), ahead of an independent Catalonia, which appealed to 26 percent and 23 percent respectively. Interestingly, in this sense young people are closer to their grandparents’ views than to their parents’ generation on the question of independence. Among the silent generation, regional autonomy within Spain had 33 percent support, and 27 percent supported an independent Catalonia.

A demonstrator waves a half-Spanish and half-Senyera flag during a protest by far-right party Vox against the government in Barcelona in 2020. (Photo by Pau Barrena / AFP)

Young men

Furthermore, delving further into the graphics, it becomes clear that young men are some of the least likely people to support Catalan independence. A survey published by Òmnium points to “a marked conservative movement and a move away from the fundamental values of sovereignty among the country’s youth” more generally but specifically among young men.

Young men, the study demonstrates, are the most ‘espanyolistas’ in the region, in other words, the least favourable towards Catalan independence and most likely to be pro-centralisation and Spanish. They are also the ones who view using the Catalan language as a lesser priority. However, this isn’t an isolated policy issue, and young men in the region are also more likely to be sceptical about climate change, the least in favour of paying taxes, the least feminist, and those who perceive the threat of the extreme right as the least relevant.

The study termed this the ‘derechización‘ (what we might call the ‘right-wingisation’ in English) of young men, a trend across the rest of the country and the world in recent years.

Class and income

Income and social class also play a role in pro-separatist politics, and the data suggests that separatism is more popular among people self-describing as ‘comfortably off’.

According to data from the CEO cited by El País in 2017, the real flashpoint of separatist politics in Catalonia, around a third (32 percent) of Catalans earning less than €900 were in favour of independence. However, over half (53 percent) of respondents earning €1,800 or more per month were pro-independence, while 54 percent of the wealthy (monthly income of €4,000 or more per month) wanted to see an independent Catalonia.

This also ties into educational level and class. Data compiled by the London School of Economics shows that independence is most popular among the highly educated (secondary and university levels), something that makes higher incomes levels more attainable and upward social mobility more likely.

Catalan origins

Interestingly, it seems that Catalans born outside Catalonia are more likely to be on lower incomes and therefore less likely to hold pro-separatist views. There also seems to be evidence that having a multi-generational Catalan background makes you more likely to be pro-independence.

As El País states, “even more glaring is the relationship between background and pro-independence sentiment. Among third generation Catalans – those with both parents and all four grandparents born in Catalonia – support for independence rises to 75 percent.”

“But this figure drops drastically when it comes to families with more varied backgrounds. Support for independence stands at 49 percent among those with one parent from outside the region and drops to 29 percent among children of immigrants.”

Geography

Geography also plays a role. As these municipality map breakdowns by RTVE show, if the population living in each area is taken into account, as in the second map, you can see that in the largest municipalities, such as Barcelona and its surrounding metropolitan area, the non-nationalist bloc holds the greatest electoral weight.

The maps are stark, but population even things even out: in municipalities where there was a nationalist or pro-independence majority in 2021, found largely in the country and smaller towns, slightly over 3 million Catalans live; but in the big cities, where people are more likely to be sceptical, that figure is almost 5 million.

As the Royal Elcano Institute put it in its analysis of the post-2017 political chaos, Catalan independence bucks the traditional rural/urban split: “While Scottish independence is viewed more favourably in big cities, in Catalonia the territorial divide is the reverse: rural areas register a majority in favour of independence, with urban areas having a majority against.”

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