Focus on Spanish Society, November 2021

Focus on Spanish Society. November 2021

Fecha: noviembre 2021

Pobreza, Tasa de privación material, Envejecimiento de la población, Gasto en pensiones, Investigación científica

Section I. Spain in Europe

I.1. Severe material deprivation in the year of the pandemic

1.1. Break in positive trend

The severe material deprivation rate is an absolute measure of poverty which gauges the extent to which people in a country cannot afford goods, services or satisfy financial needs deemed as necessary to lead an adequate life.1 Recently published data by Eurostat allow for approaching the impact of the pandemic on this type of poverty.

With rates ranging from 15 to 20%, Bulgaria, Greece and Romania were the European countries with higher percentages of people affected by severe material deprivation in 2020. By contrast, the Nordic countries, together with The Netherlands and Austria, as well as the Czech Republic and Poland, displayed rates lower than 3% (Figure I.1).

In 2020, many European countries managed to maintain or even reduce the level of severe material deprivation from the previous year. But this was not the case in Spain. Before the pandemic, the country was reducing the level of severe material deprivation from a maximum of 7.1% reached in 2014 (3,246 million). In 2019, people under severe material deprivation amounted to 4.7% (2,189 million), but the pandemic broke with this downward trend and the rate rose to 7% of the population in 2020 (3,259 million). Males and females are similarly affected by this type of poverty, but age appears to be a much more significant variable. The material deprivation rate of people under 18 is nearly three times higher than the corresponding rate for people 65 and over. Among the latter group, those aged 75 and over are the least affected by severe material deprivation (Figure I.2).

1.2. Single person households: Elderly fare much better

Single person households are increasing in many European countries, although international differences remain substantial. The share of single person households in the EU-27 ranges from 16.4% (Slovakia) to 45.3% (Sweden) in 2020. At 26.1%, Spain belongs to the group of countries with smaller proportions of single person households (Figure I.3.). As in many other countries, in Spain, single person households formed by a person younger than 65 (14.9% of total households) prevail over those inhabited by a person 65 or older (11.2%). In fact, the former are increasing at a faster pace than the latter in recent years.

Single person households of people aged less than 65 are in general more vulnerable to severe material deprivation than those of people 65 years and over (with Portugal being one of the few exceptions). But the difference between both types of households in terms of severe material deprivation is greater in Spain than in other European countries (Figure I.4). While less than 3% of people aged 65 and over living in single person households suffer severe material deprivation, the share rises to 10.7% among people younger than 65 living alone. Yet, the type of household most affected by severe material deprivation is that in which two adults live with three or more dependent children (15%). In contrast to most other European countries, in Spain, traditional large families fare somewhat worse than single-parent families in terms of absolute poverty (Figure I.5).

I.2. Uncertain trends in pension expenditure

Although the pandemic has hit the elderly population particularly hard and reduced life expectancy at advanced age, according to Eurostat population projections, longevity will progress in the next two decades significantly in the European Union. France leads the current ranking of life expectancy at 65 in the EU, with 23.2 and 19.1 years for females and males, respectively. Spain also stands out for its high figures in this indicator and the expected upward trend (Figure I.6).

As it is well-known, the combination of increasing life expectancies and decreasing numbers of births results in the growing share of the elderly population. In 2020, nearly two out of every ten people living in Spain were 65 or older; in 2040, the proportion will rise to three out of ten. Italy and Portugal display even higher shares of population over 65 and over 80, thus exemplifying the particularly intense ageing of Southern European populations (Figure I.7).

How population ageing impacts the labor market and the social protection system will depend very much on institutional factors concerning employment and social benefits. Focusing on pensions, the European Commission has published in its 2021 Ageing Report estimates of pension expenditure showing significant cross-country differences. In 2019, Italy and France were the European countries which had the highest pension expenditures as a percentage of GDP (ca. 15%), approximately twice as much as The Netherlands (6.8%) and Sweden (7.6%) and around five percentage points more than Germany (10.3%).

With 12.3% of GDP, Spain’s public pension expenditure was also significantly lower than in France and Italy. According to projections included in the 2021 Ageing Report, Spain will manage to maintain public pension expenditure under 13% until 2050. However, this estimate was made on the premise of the stability of pension legislation in place at December 2020. The likely suppression before the end of this year of the 2013 pension reform delinking pensions from infation and establishing and a sustainability factor from 2023 onwards increases the uncertainty in the evolution of public pension expenditure in Spain.

Section II. Public opinion trends

Dismal opinion about the strength of national scientific research

The recent and fast development of COVID-19 vaccines has focused significant attention on the critical role of science and technology in modern societies. According to the special Eurobarometer survey “European citizens’ knowledge and attitudes towards science and technology”, published in September 2021, one third of European citizens state they are “very interested” in new scientific discoveries and technological developments, while an additional half note being moderately interested. True, differences across countries are outstanding. Thus, people living in Italy and some Eastern European countries (Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania and Romania) seem to be much less interested in science and technology than those residing in Portugal, Cyprus, Ireland or the Benelux countries (Figure II.1). With 41% of respondents manifesting high interest in science and technology, Spain also ranks above the EU-27 average (33%). Moreover, it is worth noting that while the EU-27 average proportion of respondents declaring to be very interested in these subjects increased three percentage points between 2010 and 2021, in Spain, it soared by 12 percentage points.

However, the European capacity to make “new scientific discoveries” in comparison with other competing global powers is perceived as relatively modest. A majority of Europeans think that researchers in the United States, China or Japan are ahead of researchers in the EU. Spanish citizens are even more critical when comparing European research with research developed in the aforementioned countries (Figure II.2).

When asked to compare researchers in their own country to researchers in the EU on average, respondents in Germany and the Nordic countries appear to be the ones with the best opinion about themselves: 36% of Germans, 33% of Dutch, 25% of Danes and 21% of Swedes think their national researchers are ahead of the EU average (Figure II.3). By contrast, this opinion is very rare in Southern and Eastern European countries. In Spain, only 6% of respondents argue that Spanish researchers are ahead of researchers in the EU on average in terms of making new scientific discoveries.


1 People experiencing severe material deprivation are those living in households confronted with at least four out of the following nine items: inability to: (1) face unexpected expenses, (2) afford one week annual holiday away from home, (3) avoid arrears (in mortgage rent, utility bills and/or hire purchase instalments), (4) afford a meal with meat, chicken, fish or vegetarian equivalent every second day, (5) afford keeping their home adequately warm, (6) have access to a car/van for personal use, (7) afford a washing machine, (8) afford a color TV; and (9) afford a telephone.

Section III. Follow-up social data


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