Growing number of Spanish urban children live in poverty

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Child poverty on the increase in urban towns

Half the 2.3 million children at risk of poverty in Spain, more than 1 million, live in very densely populated areas. With urbanisation, this number is increasing.

This is according to the study ‘Geography of child poverty in Spain’ published by the Spanish Government’s Commission against Child Poverty.

Although the rate of child poverty has been higher in sparsely populated areas than in densely populated ones over the past decade, in recent years there has been a tendency for it to also occur in urban areas. 29.6% of poor children live in sparsely populated areas compared to 27.6% in densely populated areas.  

Child poverty and urbanisation go hand in hand

The study shows that in 2020, 50.5% of children and adolescents at risk of poverty lived in densely populated areas, while the rest lived in sparsely populated (26%) and intermediate (23.5%) areas. It also appears that the intensity increases with the degree of urbanisation. 15.1% of children in densely populated areas lived in poverty in 2020, 1.5% more than in sparsely populated areas. At 5.2%, severe child poverty was slightly more common than in densely populated areas (4.2%).

Differences by city

Most poor children live in metropolitan areas. What is striking is the shift to the suburbs due to the greater affordability of houses, according to the report. This is visible in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville. In the province of Málaga, the capital suffers from the highest rate of child poverty. However, more remote municipalities such as Mijas and Fuengirola also have high rates of inequality. Seville and Malaga have relatively the highest rates of poor child.

Most children in poverty live in Madrid

The report shows that the Madrid area has the highest number of children and adolescents living in poverty: around 230,000, 9% of the national total. Inequality is greater in Madrid. There are ‘very deprived areas, with high levels of child poverty, contrasting with very privileged areas with high incomes’. 

Cogesa Expats

In Barcelona and its surrounding areas, the number of children at risk of poverty is 160,000.

Within and around the cities of Valencia, Seville and Malaga, there are about 60,000. In the cities, it is also more difficult to find safe, habitable and affordable housing. Vulnerable households in urban areas spend on average 22% more money on housing than households of the same means in rural areas.

Problems in sparsely populated areas

In less populated areas, residents face other difficulties such as lack of employment opportunities, demographic imbalance, lack of education, access to basic services and lack of adequate infrastructure.


The study concludes that the conditions within a household’s environment can contribute to poverty and ‘exacerbate, compensate but also eradicate’ its effects. A positive environment can protect children from its harmful effects within the family. On the other hand, environments where the rate is already high can intensify the harmful effects. This is what we see happening in deprived neighbourhoods with substandard housing. There, extreme poverty, social exclusion and lack of opportunity are the order of the day.

According to the report, there are approximately 270 of these neighbourhoods in Spain. The solution for sparsely populated areas lies in equal access to quality education and health services. In urban areas, it is to facilitate access to safe housing with good living conditions and the improvement of urban facilities, stresses the Committee Against Child Poverty.

European support

The European Child Guarantee provides a framework in the fight against poverty. Both the European Social Fund Plus and the European Regional Development Fund can make funds available. Regional and local authorities must ensure that there are solid income guarantee systems and equal access to services.

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