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Spain - People

Spain has a population of about 47,000,000 ( 47,190,493 as of January 1, 2011 National Institute of Statistics (INE), up from 46.9 million in 2010). Approximately 12% of the Spanish population are foreign nationals. Top foreign nationalities in Spain are Romanian (861k), Moroccan (777k), Ecuadorian, (380k), British (226k registered with the police and 1 million who spend at least part of the year in Spain) and Colombian (227k).

One of the clearest indicators of Spain's cultural diversity is language. Ethnic group boundaries do not coincide with administrative jurisdictions, so exact figures are impossible to confirm, but observers generally agreed that about one Spanish citizen in four spoke a mother tongue other than Castilian in the late 1980s. Nevertheless, Castilian Spanish was the dominant language throughout the country. Even in the homelands of the other Iberian languages, the native tongue was used primarily for informal communication, and Castilian continued to dominate in most formal settings.

Spain has, besides its Castilian ethnic core, three major peripheral ethnic groups with some claim to an historical existence preceding that of the Spanish state itself. In descending order of size, they are the Catalans, the Galicians, and the Basques. In descending order of the intensity of the pressure they brought to bear on Spanish society and politics in the late 1980s, the Basques came first, followed by the less intransigent and less violent Catalans, and, at a great distance, by the much more conservative and less volatile Galicians. In addition, heavily populated Andalusia had become the center of fragmenting regionalism in the south; and the Gypsies, although few in number, continuing to be a troublesome and depressed cultural minority.

Spain's population density, lower than that of most European countries, is roughly equivalent to New England's. In recent years, following a longstanding pattern in the rest of Europe, rural populations are moving to cities. Urban areas are also experiencing a significant increase in immigrant populations, chiefly from North Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe.

About 70% of Spain's student population attends public schools or universities. The remainder attends private schools or universities, the great majority of which are operated by the Catholic Church. Compulsory education begins with primary school or general basic education for ages 6-14. It is free in public schools and in many private schools, most of which receive government subsidies. Following graduation, students attend either a secondary school offering a general high school diploma or a school of professional education (corresponding to grades 9-12 in the United States) offering a vocational training program. The Spanish university system offers degree and post-graduate programs in all fields--law, sciences, humanities, and medicine--and the superior technical schools offer programs in engineering and architecture.

In mid-1985, Spain's population reached 38.8 million, making it Western Europe's fifth most populous nation. The country's population grew very slowly throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century and most of the twentieth. In the 1860s, the population increased by only about one-third of one percent annually; by the first decades of the twentieth century, this rate of increase had grown to about 0.7 percent per year. Between the 1930s and the 1980s, population growth rates hovered between 0.8 and 1.2 percent annually (see table 3, Appendix). In the postwar years, Spain began to exhibit population growth patterns very similar to those of most other advanced industrial societies. Growth rates were projected to level off, or to decline slightly, through the remainder of the twentieth century; Spain was expected to reach a population of 40 million by 1990 and 42 million by the year 2000. Observers estimated that the country's population would stabilize in the year 2020 at about 46 million.

One significant factor in Spain's population growth has been a declining rate of births. Between 1965 and 1985, Spain experienced a dramatic reduction in its birth rate, from 21 to 13 per thousand, a drop of approximately 38 percent. In 1975, with an estimated base population of about 35.5 million, the country recorded about 675,000 live births; in 1985, with an estimated base population of more than 38 million, Spain had only about 475,000 live births. In other words, ten years after the death of Franco, despite an increase of nearly 3 million in the base population, the country registered more than one-third fewer births.

Franco's policies toward cultural, ethnic, and linguistic minorities were directed at the suppression of all non-Spanish diversity and at the unification, integration, and homogenization of the country. Until 1975 Spain's policy toward its ethnic minorities was more highly centralized and unifying than that of its neighbor, France, where a liberal democratic framework allowed private-sector initiatives to keep regional cultures and languages alive.

With the restoration of democracy, Spanish elites (many of whom come from one of the peripheral ethnic homelands, especially Catalonia) were much more tolerant of cultural, ethnic, and linguistic differences. Article 2 of the 1978 Constitution includes this wording: "The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible fatherland of all Spaniards, and it recognizes and guarantees the autonomy of the nationalities and regions that comprise it [the Spanish Nation], and the solidarity among them."

It should be pointed out, however, that the word "autonomy" is never defined in the Constitution, leaving a serious ambiguity in Spain's treatment of its ethnic minorities. While requiring that Castilian be the official language throughout the country, the Constitution also recognizes the possibility that other languages may be "co-official" (an ambiguous term that is taken to mean "having co-equal status with Castilian for governmental purposes") in their respective autonomous communities. By 1988 five languages had been accorded such treatment: Catalan, Galician, Euskera (the Basque language), Valencian, and Majorcan.

From the vantage point of the state, the Basque, the Catalan, and the Galician peoples were "nationalities" within the larger and more inclusive Spanish nation. There was only one nation, and its capital was Madrid; ethnic minorities were prohibited from using the term "nation" in reference to themselves. For the Basque or the Catalan nationalist, however, there was no Spanish nation, only a Spanish state made up of a number of ethnic nations, of which theirs was one.

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