Labor market and marriage reputation erode birth rate

The high unemployment rates of the Spanish youth population, low wages and precarious employment, discourage young people from marriage and childbearing, has assured these days the Demographic Observatory of the CEU directed by Joaquín Leguina. The fact is aggravated by an image fake and a family penalty, explains consultant María Álvarez de las Asturias.

Francisco Otamendi-April 30, 2022-Reading time: 7 minutes

There will undoubtedly be other factors. But precarious employment, as highlighted by the CEU experts, and the "bad press on marriage", in the colloquial expression of María Álvarez de las Asturias (Instituto Coincidir), author of books of excellent diffusion such as 'Más que juntos', 'Una decisión original', or 'La nulidad matrimonial, mitos y realidades', clearly affect the fact that "young people are marrying less and less and marrying older and older", and that "young people are becoming emancipated much older, with high rates of unemployment".

Conclusion, "from the social point of view, Spain has a serious problem with respect to the birth rate," said this week the director of the Demographic Observatory (OD) of the CEU, Joaquín Leguina, in an event organized at the CEU San Pablo University by the Faculty of Humanities and Communication Sciences, the CEU Institute of Family Studies and the Center for Studies, Training and Social Analysis (CEFAS).

You will now see some data, in cascade, extracted in part from the reports presented by the aforementioned observatory, in which the engineer Alejandro Macarrón appears as coordinator, and also from other sources, especially those related to civil and canonical weddings, that is to say, celebrated by the Church, as it is colloquially said. We will offer some comments later.

Emancipation at 29.5 years of age; marriage at 34 years of age

1) Young Spaniards are among those who emancipate the latest in the European Union, with the average age of leaving the family home having been delayed by slightly more than a year (in Spain it takes place at 29.5 years, compared to 25.5 in the Eurozone) as a result of the last major economic crisis that began in 2008.

2) The conjunctural indicator of primonuptiality, which is equivalent to an annual estimate of the probability that people will marry at least once under the age of 60, has fallen by just over 50 %, specifically from 0.99 in 1976 to 0.48 in 2019, according to the University Observatory.

That is to say, "at the beginning of the Transition, the vast majority of Spaniards were married at some time. That is why today only 1 out of every 11 Spaniards who die at the age of 80 or older does so without having married during his or her lifetime. And with the current data, more than half of Spaniards would never get married".

3) "The average age at first marriage has risen from 25.4 years in 1976 to 34.4 years in 2019, a huge delay." In recent decades, "the age at marriage has been significantly delayed, which has a negative impact on fertility, although nowadays not a few couples reverse the traditional order of marrying first and having children later, and celebrate their wedding with one or more children".

4) The number of children per woman, called by experts the synthetic fertility index, plummeted in Spain in 2019, to 1.23, the lowest figure since 2000, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE). These days, the aforementioned OD has reported that in 2020, a year that was certainly atypical due to the pandemic, this index was 1.18.

5) Twenty years ago there were 163,000 Catholic weddings in Spain. In 2020, they did not reach ten thousand. In contrast, civil rites went from 44,779 in 1996 to 129,000 in 2019. In 2001, 73.1 percent of marriages celebrated in Spain were Catholic. Eight years later, the percentage had dropped to 45.5 percent. By the middle of the last decade, it had fallen to 31.7 percent. Last year, it barely exceeded 20 percent. Now, only one in ten are Catholic (sources from the Spanish Episcopal Conference, CEE).

Spanish women want to have more children

The low fertility rate mentioned above is even more distressing, if possible, because a survey by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) recalled that Spanish women of childbearing age claim to want to have children. "more than twice as many children as they have.". In fact, the gap between the number of children desired and those had is the largest in Europe, with 1.1 children per woman, according to the report 'Estado del bienestar, ciclo vital y demografía', by the Observatorio Social de la Fundación La Caixa, presented at the end of last year.

The labor factor

We can now review some of the causes of this phenomenon, which much of public opinion has described as demographic winter, or even demographic suicide. That is, why Spaniards who want to have more children do not have them. Although it was mentioned at the beginning, it should be reiterated. It is the economic and labor situation.

"The unemployment rates of the Spanish youth population are very high, wages are very low and many jobs are precarious. A reality that causes motherhood to be delayed and citizens to have fewer children, thus decreasing the birth rate", point out Joaquín Leguina and his team. In their opinion, there is a social and political current against the family. "Anyone who speaks against the birth rate is speaking against Spain. We have to fight against the ideologies that defend women not having children," he says.

On the other hand, consultant and writer María Álvarez de las Asturias explains to Omnes, first of all, her support for the thesis of the CEU experts. "The economic factor is now very important. In other times I have said that the economic issue was not so important, but right now, if a guy is being paid 800 euros a month in a powerful company, it is not enough to make plans. Besides, with very precarious jobs, you don't know if in six months you will be there or not. The economic aspect has a lot of influence at the moment".

"Companies are asking for young people with 2 or 3 years of experience, but those same companies do not give young people contracts in which they can acquire that experience. There is no way," adds Álvarez de las Asturias. "The labor market needs to be rethought if we want young people to be able to make plans. I don't say a contract for life. I also understand the employers, but a minimum... Remunerations of 800 euros do not correspond to the rental market, and neither do they correspond to what top managers are earning. All this needs to be rethought.

I'm not talking about a contract for life, but you have to find the balance between the company being able to pay you, and if not you may have to leave, and providing a minimum of security".

Family discrimination or penalization

But the consulting firm does not stop there, and refers to other factors. For example, to what could be called discrimination or penalization on the grounds of family, although she does not use those terms. She explains it in this way: "The fact is that workers who want to start a family are seen as a chore. The social conscience of forming a family is a problem. It is as if it were a luxury. If you want to have children, get fixed up. It's a whole mentality [that needs to be changed]. I'm not saying pro-family, pro-natalism. That anyone who wants to have a child should have things made easier".

"This doesn't just happen with marriage, but with having a family. You have an employee who has a family and it's not welcome news. In fact, people are very careful not to say it, until they have no choice but to say it. Between a guy who is not married, and another who has family obligations, well, he is freer... But we are putting the work and the economic performance..., and it is in a way an exploitation, because they are contracts in which if you fire one, the next day you have fifty thousand candidates for that position. The labor market needs a complete overhaul," he summarizes.

Adolescence, image

In addition, Álvarez de las Asturias mentions that "the immaturity of adolescence is being prolonged. Some psychologists point out that up to the age of twenty-something is adolescence, when adolescence used to end before, didn't it? Now, when young people get married between 25 and 28 years old, the general reaction is: but they are very young! They are not so young, I say, it is an age in which it is advisable for them to be mature enough to make important decisions".

The writer cites a third argument. "Marriage gets a very bad press, and families who have always been pro-marriage have allowed themselves to be contaminated by this mentality that marriage is a complicated thing, and they don't encourage it either. And then they have at their fingertips living with all the advantages of marriage, without taking on any responsibility. And if we make a pack with all that... Besides, they emancipate themselves, but with the money they earn they go to live in an apartment with several friends. All these things I have mentioned have an influence, I think so".

A reflection in the Church

Álvarez de las Asturias also proposes a personal and community reflection, looking at families and the Church. Why don't they get married? "Because we're still doing terrible." states. "Because the remote preparation that John Paul II asked for, and later Benedict and Francis, we don't do it. There is no remote preparation. And we lose the children after First Communion, or at the most after Confirmation, until they reach the pre-marriage course, when perhaps they have been living together, have children... There is a space in which we do nothing"..

Some appreciate "watertight compartments"adds Álvarez de las Asturias on the Omnes website. "Youth ministry on the one hand, family ministry on the other... And Pope Francis has said that family ministry has to be the backbone of everything. It is from the family that the rest of the pastoral work hangs. If we don't have families, if we don't have children, we can forget everything".

The consultant and writer has been talking for a while about the importance of "showing normal marriages, not perfect couples. Show them with life what a 'real' marriage is like. But imperfect love does not cease to be real love, as Pope Francis says in Amoris LaetitiaHe loves me as he is and as he can, with his limits, but the fact that his love is imperfect does not mean that it is false or that it is not real. It is real, but limited and earthly" (AL. 113).

Face to the next Meeting The World Meeting of Families in Rome and in the dioceses, at the end of June, is an idea that could be explored in depth, although we will not comment on this aspect with the author, because the topic is a lengthy one. We simply pick up the last sentence of this point 113, although all of it has numerous real applications: "Love lives with imperfection, excuses it, and knows how to keep silent before the limits of the loved one".

"No birth rate, no future"

Finally, it may be recalled that some message launched by the Holy Father Francis at the inauguration a year ago of the General States of Birth in Italy, promoted by the Forum of Family Associations. In the presence of the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, he pointed out: "No birth rate, no future". It is necessary to "invest" this trend for "to put Italy back in motion, starting from life, starting from the human being", added the Holy Father in his speech. "Italy has had for years the lowest number of births in Europe, which is being signified in the old continent no longer by its glorious history, but by its advanced age." added the Pontiff.

The same could be said of Spain, Greece and so many other countries. Because Francis spoke in Italy, but he had the world in his mind and in his heart.

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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