demographics and coronavirus

Buffered and attenuated, the coronavirus is still pressing with its toll of infected and dead, thankfully much less than in the peak stages of the pandemic. 2020 was demographically a Annus horribilisthe worst in our recent population history.

That Spanish demographics are not rocket-throwing is an irrefutable truth. We should have gotten better and we got worse because of the strengthening of the negative trends that were happening in marriage, natural increase and related demographic events. Let’s start with them.

As is known, many couples postponed their marriage during the pandemic due to difficulties in celebrating the relationship. Weddings have been declining for many years, especially religious ones, but in 2020 the decline was sudden: from 166,000 marriages in 2019, it went to just over 90,000 the following year, that is, almost half. At the same time, there was a decline in divorces, although not in the same proportion (from 92,000 to 77,000). As with other phenomena (we will see later), 2021 was a year of recovery. Marriages rose again (147,000), including religious ones, without reaching pre-pandemic levels, continuing the previous downward trend. Divorces also rose again, approaching 2019 levels.

The demographic variable most affected by the coronavirus was mortality. We will never know the exact number of deaths that occurred. As of August 26, 2022, the Ministry of Health gives 112,454 deaths, but it is more than likely that they will exceed at least 120,000 if the excess of deaths in 2019 is taken into account in the years 2020, 2021 and so 2022. In international comparison Spain gives a figure of 2,300 deaths per million inhabitants, a level similar in the European Union to that of Portugal, higher than that of Germany or France and lower than that of Italy and the eastern countries. In addition to gross figures, three approximations are of interest: impact by community, distribution by sex, and distribution by age. By autonomies, the highest absolute figures logically correspond to the most populated: Catalonia, Madrid and Andalusia. But if we use some relative indicator (for example, deaths per 100,000 inhabitants), the strongest indicators are held by some of the oldest communities: Aragon, Castile-La Mancha, Castile and León and the Basque Country. By gender, there is more than a 10-point difference between women (45 percent) and men (55 percent), confirming the best behavior in the face of death that women have. And according to age, the reaper is especially common in people over 70 (85 percent) and in them in those over 80 (2/3 of the total). They are the generations born in the 1930s and 1940s, who saw the light in the dangerous times before the civil war, during it or in the time of the post-war deprivation, and who, despite the acquired resistance, have now lost their lives them in the hands of an invisible but implacable enemy. Age was the main cause of the differential mortality, but to it were added other aggravating circumstances, such as the presence of a previous serious illness and, at least initially, living in a dwelling where the ease and speed of contagion skyrocketed.

Paula Andrade

In the midst of a pandemic, perhaps as a subconscious reaction to the multiplication of deaths, some commentators, without much scientific basis, predicted something new baby boom caused by the blocking. I never thought it would happen, and the available data allows us to confirm it. The resulting uncertainty of childbirth, as well as the doubts that many would-be mothers have about what might happen to the fetus if they contract the disease, further exacerbated the decline in births. There were 19,000 fewer live births in 2020 than in 2019. The fertility rate between the two dates went from 1.24 to 1.19 children per woman, and the average age at first child increased by a tenth. Fortunately, the decline moderated a bit in 2021, but we continue to maintain a clear downtrend. Births and abortions have declined, but are likely to rise again, driven by a new law as inexplicable as it is permissive.

More deaths and fewer births mean an accentuation of the negative natural increase. In 2019, the balance was under 57,000 people, and in 2020 it shot up to almost under 152,000, a threefold increase.

This is the scenario that the coronavirus is leaving in terms of domestic growth, which had already been showing a state of weakness since 2009. This was another blow to a destroyed demographic that loosens somewhat in 2021, but maintains the previous negative trends, which are entering a chronic situation.

The pandemic has also affected migration, life expectancy and ageing. But these will be topics for another reflection.

  • Raphael Puyol He is the president of UNIR

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