Focus on Spanish Society. May 2022
Fecha: mayo 2022
Section I. Spain in Europe
I.1. Long-term declining marriage rates and the Covid blow
In 2020, Spain registered the lowest number of different-sex marriages since 1975: 87,481. The annual decrease (-46%) was more significant than in other European countries, like Germany (-10%), The Netherlands (-21%), Sweden (-22%) or France (-34%), but not very different from the decreases recorded in other Southern European countries (Italy: -47%; Portugal: -43%) and Ireland (-53%).
Before 2020, the lowest figure of yearly marriages was in 2013, when Spain was immersed in the economic crisis and reached the historical maximum of unemployment (ca. 6 million people). In contrast, 1975 was the year in the entire series in which the highest number of marriages took place: 271,347. Hence, the number of marriages in 2020 was just over half of the marriages in 2013 and less than a third of those observed in 1975. Indeed, the evolution of new marriages is highly dependent on the economic cycle: they fall in recession periods and increase in expansion periods, but beyond these oscillations the downward trend is striking.
Leaving aside the year 2020 given its highly extraordinary restrictions on social life, during the five-year period between the end of the economic crisis and the start of the pandemic, 2015-2019, the annual average number of marriages (166,000) was well below the annual average for the five year period prior to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) (2003-2007): 208,000. It could be said that the marriage rate had not yet recovered from the GFC when the pandemic provoked its unprecedented fall.
The drop in marriage also becomes evident when expressed as a proportion of the population. The Spanish gross marriage rate (marriages per 1,000 inhabitants) amounted in the years prior to the pandemic to 3.5-3.7, approximately half of that registered in the mid-1970s (7.2-7.3), falling in 2020 to below 2 (1.91) (Figure I.1).
The same indicator shows how marriages have plummeted in Europe over the last half century. The decrease throughout this period has been less intense in Germany, and more pronounced in Portugal, but it has occurred in all countries. At the same time, the proportion of first marriages (over the total number of marriages) has decreased. In Spain, for example, in the mid-1970s, first marriages amounted to 96-99% of all marriages; in 2019-2020 they represented around 80%. In other European countries with a strong Catholic tradition, such as Italy, Portugal and Ireland, similarly intense increases in non- first marriages have taken place. Nowadays, in these countries far fewer single people get married, but far more people remarry.
The decline in marriage rates constitutes a widespread phenomenon in Western societies due to a reduction in both institutional and sociocultural incentives for marriage. On the one hand, being married is no longer essential to access certain services and benefits that traditionally required this condition (such as widow’s pensions, whose importance as a basic resource for survival has furthermore decreased in societies with high rates of labor participation of men and women and where the “dual earner” family prevails over the “male breadwinner” family). Marriage is also not a necessary condition to ensure full rights for children (among them, the orphan’s pensions). On the other hand, Western societies do not stigmatize (or do so to a much lesser extent) people (and, in particular, women) who have had various partners throughout their adult lives (and even lived with them under the same roof). Having had various partners is understood by the majority of society as a manifestation of the exercise of individual freedom and of the legitimate search for personal happiness.
The declining social importance of marriage in Spain is evident. However, this statement is circumscribed to heterosexual couples, since marriage between people of the same sex follows an upward trend (more ostensible among women, whose number of marriages exceeds that of men since 2018) (Figure I.3). Same-sex marriages also fell in 2020 (-36% in the case of women and -40% in the case of men), but less than heterosexual marriages (-46%). Yet, it should not be forgotten that homosexual marriages (of both sexes) represented in 2020 just under 4% of all marriages in that year.
I.2. Immigration flows during the pandemic: A sharp drop, yet a sizable amount
Despite the fact that in 2020 deaths outnumbered births in Spain (by ca. 152,000), the country ended the first year of the pandemic with almost 47.4 million inhabitants, 0.14% more than a year before. Thus, the resident population in Spain grew in 2020 less than in previous years, but unlike in Italy (-0.68%) or Germany (-0,01%), it did increase. In any case, population growth in Spain during 2020 was by far more reduced than in France (0.5%), Sweden (0.5%) or Ireland (0.8%), three countries where births outnumbered deaths (i.e., recording natural population increase) (Figure I.2).
In all European Union countries, the foreign-born population increased in absolute terms in 2020, but in Spain it did so to a considerable extent. In fact, it grew at the same rate as in 2017 (3%), though at a lower rate than in 2018 (5%) and 2019 (7%) (Figure I.3). Hence, at the end of the first year of the pandemic, the foreign-born population in Spain had gained almost 220,000 individuals (compared to the previous year) and represented 15.2% of the total population, a percentage above those registered in France (12.8%) and Italy (10.6%), yet lower than those of Ireland (17.6%), Germany (18.2%) and Sweden (19.7%) (Figure I.4).
The Spanish Migration Statistics confirm that even though the flows of foreigners entering Spain were drastically reduced during the initial period of the pandemic, in none of the three semesters for which data are already available (first and second of 2020, and first of 2021) was this flow lower in absolute terms than those registered between 2012 and (the first semester of) 2016 (Figure I.5). Therefore, it can be argued that the economic crisis hit immigration to Spain harder than the pandemic.
The analysis of emigration data allows to draw the same conclusion. In the first half of 2021 exits of foreign-born people (especially those not naturalized) soared by 36% compared to those registered in the second half of 2019. Still, their amount was considerably below the numbers recorded between 2011 and 2013 (Figure I.8).
Section II. Public opinion trends
The war in Ukraine: Stabilized concern and decrease in support for NATO intervention
The interest and concern that the Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked among Spanish public opinion during the first weeks of war seem to have stagnated. Indeed, at the beginning of March, the proportion of the representative sample interviewed by the Center for Sociological Research (CIS) who claimed to have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of knowledge about what was happening in Ukraine was slightly more than half. After increasing somewhat in April, in the first fortnight of May, it returned to the level of March (51%).
As for the degree of concern about the war, in the first two months (March and April), the proportion of people showing “very much” or “quite a lot” of concern was close to 90%, while in May it fell to 76%. Support for whether NATO should intervene militarily in Ukraine if Russia did not withdraw from the country has also decreased. In March, just over half of those interviewed (52%) agreed “fully” or “quite a lot” with that option, whereas the corresponding percentages in the April and May surveys range between 44 and 45% (Figure II.1).
When examining the data from the last available survey (May 2022) by gender, results show that even though more men say they know “a great deal” or “quite a lot” about what is happening in the Ukraine, (♂56% /♀ 46%), more women feel “very much” or “quite a lot” concerned (♂73%/♀79%). Support for a NATO military intervention is also more widespread among women than men (♂39%/♀49%) (Figure II.2). The data suggest a stronger emotional attachment of females to the situation in Ukraine.
Age also marks interesting differences in this regard. The degree of knowledge and concern about the war in Ukraine increases with age. The opposite occurs with respect to support for a NATO military intervention. Almost half of those interviewees aged 18 to 34 expressed in May 2020 agreement with that intervention, while among those aged 55 and older this proportion represents around 40% (Figure II.3).