MADRID – For years the problem of an ’empty Spain’ (España vaciada) has been raised and social associations and even a political party have been trying to draw attention to the exodus of the Spanish countryside and additional problems for the villages.
However, there now seems to be a reverse trend. Young people who leave the city and move to the countryside. This trend has been observed since 2018. And of those city dwellers who exchange the city for a village, a surprisingly large proportion are young.
The report “Migration to the countryside” from the Ministry of Ecological Transition shows that between 2018 and 2021, 222,229 people registered in small villages. Villages with less than 1,000 inhabitants even showed a small growth. This means that on balance more people came in than left. Half of them are immigrants, and the rest are city dwellers who have decided to leave urban life behind. Some of them still have family ties with these villages, but most returnees simply look for a different way of life.
The pandemic was the driving force of this trend
Initially, it was mainly pensioners who moved to the villages. But migration to the countryside has accelerated and intensified enormously since the pandemic broke out in March 2020. Many people were forced to work from home and were increasingly facilitated by their employers. In this way, both employees and employers discovered the possibilities and advantages of teleworking. Living close to work was no longer strictly necessary.
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In 2021, according to the report, there seems to be more of a trend than a snapshot. Of the 57,000 people who went to the villages last year, no less than 46% are younger than 35 years. This means that there is not only a growth of the villages but a rejuvenation at the same time.
A different way of life
While a pandemic was necessary for the city to bring people into contact with their neighbours, in most villages people know each other. Villagers help each other and keep each other company in their spare time. People eat together, go out together, play sports or play games. The pace of life is later, life is more authentic and people find a better work-life balance than in the city.
There are initiatives to give a new impulse to rural life. Some young people have founded the organisation Rumbo Rural. It aims to generate ecosystems through collaborations to promote projects that have a positive impact on the area concerned. For example, Rumbo Rural develops tourist routes through nature reserves, co-work spots in remote areas and sporting events. All this is to make and keep the villages attractive, especially for working young people. Another organisation with the same goal is Repueblo. An innovative think tank for the countryside.
Cheaper and more sustainable life
More than 80% of the villages whose population is growing are located less than 15 minutes away from a larger city. The proximity of these larger cities seems to be a determining factor in the decision to move to a village. All the conveniences of the cities are within reach, but you can live in a better quality home at a much lower price. The social structure is often more solid and you have more space around you and lead a less hectic life.
From male surplus to more females
Previously, life for the villagers consisted mainly of working in the countryside. The result was that there was a surplus of men in the villages because there was a lack of opportunities for women. But in the current migration to the countryside, the proportion of women is high. More and more Spanish women are exchanging the city for a village and from 2020 the number of women in villages has grown by more than 50,000.
Facilities for families
With this development, the villages are also increasingly focusing on families. Schools and other services are being established and employment projects are being developed. These in turn also attract families with children. All this improves the local economy and social life and ultimately leads to births.
Advertising through social media
Thanks to the youth in the villages, they also receive free advertising through social media. Many young people talk about their lives there. Once in a while, a message like this goes viral.
Basic facilities indispensable
These are positive developments, but a lot still needs to be done to make and keep the deflated Spain fully habitable again. For example, basic services such as education, health care, public