Are Spanish young people now worse off than in the past?

Spain News

After two major economic crises, it is often said today’s Spanish young people have it worse than their parents. Is that really so? And how has the current generation of young people deteriorated compared to the past?

The Spanish newspaper El Diario sought the answer to this question and compared, among other things, the opportunities on the housing market, labour market, education, leisure activities and health status of three generations of young adults between the ages of 20 and 34. from the 1980s, from the year 2000 and from now.

The first group, the so-called baby boomers, are now between 60 and 75 years old. The young people from 2000, Generation X, were born during the Spanish Transition and are now between 40 and 55 years old. The current generation is also referred to as millennials or Generation Z.

Educational attainment

Looking at educational opportunities, the current generation is considerably higher educated than the youth of the 1980s. At that time, university studies were reserved for only a few. In 1981, only one in ten young people between the ages of 25 and 34 had completed higher education. Significantly more opportunities for young people have emerged in this area over the past 40 years. Now almost half of Spaniards from this age group have completed a higher education. This means universities have become a lot more accessible compared to 1980.

Live at home

Compared to 40 years ago, more young people at the age of 30 are still living with their parents. The main reason is the difficult entry into the housing market. Young people from the last two generations experience more problems than the young people from the 1980s. Now 26% of Spaniards in the age category 30 to 34 years still live with their parents, in 1987 that was only 18%. The same applies to young people between the ages of 25 and 29: 57% still live at home versus 44% in the 1980s.

House prices have risen sharply since the 1990s, while the average salary has not increased to that extent. In the 1980s, a house of 94 square meters could be bought for three average annual salaries; the cost of a comparable home has more than doubled, according to the Banco de España. Young people now have to save 7 annual salaries to be able to buy their own home.

More often to the doctor

As far as the view of one’s own health is concerned, something remarkable has happened in the past 40 years. The current generation of young people turns to a doctor more often than the previous generations. In 2017, 80% of Spaniards between the ages of 15 and 35 had a medical consultation at least once in the past 12 months. In the late 1980s, it was only 64%. It is striking that the current generation assesses their own health more positively than the generations before. In 2017, 87% of young people between the ages of 25 and 34 said they were in good or very good health.

Yet the lifestyle of young people has changed drastically in the past 40 years. This is reflected in the increased percentage of young people who are overweight. Compared to the late 1980s, that percentage has increased by more than 6 percentage points. In 2017, almost a third of young people between the ages of 25 and 34 were overweight, compared to only 23% in the 1980s.

Religion no longer matters

According to data from the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research (CIS), in 1981 less than 20% of young people indicated they were not religious. Now, 40 years later, the percentage of Hispanic youth who hold no faith has tripled to nearly 60%.

This decline also affects traditions associated with the faith, such as getting married. In the 1980s, young people between the ages of 20 and 34 had already attended several friends’ weddings; 59% were married themselves. Now only 16% of people in this age group are married. Of this 16%, only 20% were married in church in 2019.

Unemployment among young people unchanged

The fact young people have difficulty entering the labour market is not a modern phenomenon. In the 1980s there was already a difference of 7 percentage points between youth unemployment and general unemployment. In 1987, 27% of Spanish youth were unemployed versus 20% nationally unemployed. Meanwhile, in 2020, the pandemic year, 23% of young people were unemployed versus 16% nationally. During the past 40 years, this gap has only narrowed during the real estate crisis.

Women more often active in the labour market

Emancipation has also increased in Spain since the 1980s. More women are opting for a job outside the home. In the early 1980s, less than 27% of young women were active on the labour market, now that has doubled to 53%.

This also has consequences for the birth rate in Spain. In 2019, this figure dropped to the historically low level of 1941. While in the 1980s women still had an average of 2.04 children, this is now an average of 1.24 children. Twenty years ago, the average birth rate was the same, but it must be taken into account the birth rate was relatively high then due to the arrival of migrant women in Spain. The average age at which women have their first child has also risen in 40 years. On average, women in Spain had their child at the age of 24 in 1981; in 2001 it was 29 years and in 2019 it was 31 years.

Working fewer hours

Young people have started to work fewer hours in Spain. In 1981, young people worked an average of 41.3 hours a week, in 2001 that was 38.3 hours a week and in 2019 that was only 36.7 hours a week. Short-time working is currently a point of discussion in Spain. A number of political parties are in favour of a four-day working week, partly in order to be able to divide unpaid work at home more equally between men and women.

Head to the city

Over the past forty years, young Spaniards have increasingly moved from rural areas to the city. In 1981, 25% of the inhabitants between the ages of 16 and 44 still lived in municipalities with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants; now it is only 18%. It is remarkable that young people move to the cities, but have no preference for the large cities themselves. They prefer to settle in the suburbs around large cities such as Madrid and Barcelona.

This also makes it clear young people are opting less and less for agricultural occupations. The percentage of employees between the ages of 20 and 29 in this sector has halved in the past 40 years.

Fewer young Spaniards in influential positions

The composition of the Spanish parliament in recent decades shows fewer young people occupy positions of influence. After the last national elections, Marta Rosique (ERC) was the youngest member of parliament at 23 years old. Now no more than 6% of the 350 MPs in Spain are under the age of 35. In 2001 it was 11% and in 1981 it was 13%.

The ratio between men and women, on the other hand, has become more equal over the past 40 years. In 1981, only 6%of the MPs were women. In 2001 that had increased to one third, and now 44% of the Spanish Parliament is made up of women.

Smoking has become significantly less popular

In the late 1980s, smoking was a popular habit among young people in Spain. More than half of 20 to 34-year-olds referred to themselves as “smokers.” More than 20% of these smokers reported smoking at least 20 cigarettes a day. The anti-smoking campaigns and laws and tax increases over the past 40 years have paid off. Tobacco consumption has halved in the last four decades. Now only one in four young people in Spain indicate they smoke regularly.

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