As Spaniards get older and have fewer children, new data has revealed that foreigners are driving almost all of the population growth in Spain.
According to provisional data from INE’s Continuous Population Survey, of the 537,611 people added to the Spanish population in the last year, 524,087 of them were foreign nationals while the number of Spaniards increased by just 13,524 people.
This increase is evenly spread geographically, with the foreign population growing in every province in the country while the Spanish population grew in just 18 of Spain’s 50 provinces and the autonomous city of Melilla in North Africa.
Spain’s growing immigrant population
Due to this boost in numbers, Spain’s immigrant population has now reached 6.34 million people, 13.1 percent of the total population.
The population of Spaniards is slightly more than 42 million, equivalent to 86.9 percent of the total.
In the second quarter of 2023 the largest population increases overall in relative terms were in the Balearic Islands (0.58 percent increase), Cataluña (0.51 percent) and Madrid (0.45 percent).
Romanians, Italians and Germans are the biggest EU population groups residing in Spain, whereas when it comes to non-EU nationals Moroccans, Colombians and Britons make up the majority.
Where are most foreigners in Spain?
As of July 2023, the provinces with the highest proportion of foreign nationals were Alicante (22.9 percent), Almería (22.4 percent) and Girona (21.8 percent).
The lowest proportion are in Jaén (3.4 percent), Córdoba (3.5 percent) and Badajoz (3.8 percent).
In the last year, the foreign population grew most in A Coruña (16.7 percent), Lugo (15.44 percent) and Asturias (15.11 percent).
Looking to the future
The Spanish economy has long depended on the tourism sector for a large part of its GDP. But looking into the medium-term future, Spanish demography will also come to rely on foreigners in a different way. These won’t be holidaymakers, these will be immigrants coming to live and work in Spain.
The trends outlined by the INE statistics are set to accelerate in the coming years, according to demographic projections, and will be necessary as Spanish society becomes older and has fewer children.
According to projections released by INE last year, the Spanish population is set to undergo some big demographic changes in the coming years. Spanish society is set to get older and made up of more immigrants in the future, with the INE figures predicting that Spain will gain over 4 million (4,236,335) people by 2037, with the population set to reach 51 million. That represents an increase of 8.9 percent.
The estimated population growth is predicted to be largely due to immigration. If INE models are accurate, this would mean that the Spanish-born population will see a steady decline and fall to just 63.5 percent within 50 years.
To put that statistic in other words, by 2072 36.5 percent of people resident in Spain, a little over one in three, will be born in another country.
Yet this is unsurprising if you consider Spain’s net migratory trends of recent years. The growing proportion of immigrants in the Spanish population is partly explained by Spain’s shortage of newborns.
The birth rate in Spain has been declining for around a century, to the extent that the birth rate in the past year was 7 births for every 1,000 people, and the total number of births reached the lowest number in history in 2021 – with 338,532 babies born. That represents a huge 39 percent drop compared to a decade ago.
Not only are fewer Spaniards being born, but Spanish society is getting older too. At a time when pensions are a big political talking point in Spain, by 2035, in just 15 years, around one in four (26.0 percent) of Spaniards are expected to be 65 or older.
According to Eurostat data, the Spanish population was also the sixth oldest in the entire EU in 2022, with an average age of 45.1 years, and the second oldest in the last decade, surpassed only by Portugal.
In the coming years, Spain’s immigrant population will continue to increase — and it seems Spanish society will need it to. According to a study published by CaixaBank Research, for “an ageing society with a very low birth rate like Spain’s”, immigration “plays an essential role in demographic and employment sustainability” by contributing to “increasing and rejuvenating the total population and the labour force.”