Spain emptied | This is how the rural population grew in the pandemic

Enjoying more space, settling in second homes close to large cities or spending confinement in the family home: these are some of the reasons that made the population movements to rural areas will grow by 20.5% in 2020 compared to the average before the pandemic, according to a study led by the Center for Demographic Studies (CED-CERCA), dependent on the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and the Generalitat of Catalonia.

The work also finds that the departure of residents from rural areas decreased by 12.6%. But, in peri-urban areas and small cities without an urban area, the INE Residential Variation Statistics on which it is based does not reveal large differences with respect to the trends of the four years prior to the pandemic.

Intermunicipal net migration rate (%): 2016-2019 (average) and 2020. González-Leonardo, López-Gay et al. / INE

The areas that grow the most are those linked to large cities“, says Miguel González-Leonardo in conversation with DatosRTVE. The main researcher of the study explains that his team has observed significant population increases in municipalities near Madrid -from Guadalajara, Toledo, Ávila, Segovia and Soria- and close to Barcelona -of the Catalan Pyrenees and the coasts of Girona and Tarragona-.

According to his analysis, they have also grown especially towns in the Aragonese Pyrenees, linked to Zaragoza, and those in the north of Burgos, which are close to the capitals of the Basque Country. Now, González-Leonardo warns, everything points to the fact that it is “a conjunctural fact mainly linked to the fact that people could not move because they were confined.”

A small pothole for the cities that oxygenates the rural world

Regardless of their size, research reveals that departures from central cities to other municipalities increased by 6% compared to the average of 2916-2019, with a negative balance of around 31,000 people. But, as the researcher states, “the pandemic has been reflected in the increase in departures from large cities.”

Migrations from Madrid to other parts of Spain grew by 21%, while those whose point of origin was Barcelona did so by 13.1%, compared to the reference period. This 2020 trend is also reflected, although to a lesser extent (4.5%), in the rest of the cities with more than half a million inhabitants: Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza and Malaga.

“The larger the city, the greater the outflow of population,” says González-Leonardo, who points out that what is hardly a bump in the cities has served to give rural depopulation a boost of oxygen. “This increase in arrivals of 20.5% has had a very strong impact on the demographic dynamics [del mundo rural]”, he insists.

Where did those who left the big city go?

During 2020, the population flows from the city to the rural world increased especially towards localities with less than 10,000 inhabitants located at a distance of between 40 and 160 kilometers from the main cities. Places that, on the other hand, retained population and in which there are second homes of people from nearby cities, according to the 2011 census.

In the cases of Madrid and Barcelona, ​​the increase in departures to larger towns also stands out -with more than 10,000 inhabitants- and located more than 160 kilometers from the starting point. A mobility between cities that researchers relate to a return to family home of skilled urban workers.

“Many of them have returned to their cities of origin, to where their parents live to spend the confinement there because they teleworked or before the arrival of COVID in the big cities,” reflects González-Leonardo.

On the contrary, the study highlights that “movements to small towns continued to be infrequent compared to those who went to the most populated municipalities” and barely notices differences between age groups. “They range from families to young people who move alone, middle-aged people, retirees…”, explains the expert.

movements with a “very heterogeneous” profile in which, on the other hand, little foreign population participates. “The people who have changed their mobility patterns during the pandemic are mainly born in Spain,” says the researcher from the Center for Demographic Studies, who attributes their low mobility to a greater difficulty in changing homes or to the fact that, contrary to Spaniards do not usually have second homes.

Is it enough to repopulate the emptied Spain?

Can all these changes redefine the dominant mobility patterns in Spain or reverse the processes of rural depopulation? Although they insist on waiting for the 2021 update -scheduled for June this year- to answer this question, the researchers believe that, by patterns seen in 2020, “doesn’t look like it’s going to be a permanent thing”, but “gives the impression that it has been something conjunctural”.

This, González-Leonardo adds, also emerges from the analysis of month-to-month patterns. According to their calculations, it is observed that arrivals to cities and departures from rural areas returned to pre-pandemic patterns as soon as home confinement ended in mid June. This, explains the researcher, suggests that we are facing “a conjunctural fact linked mainly to the fact that people could not move because they were confined.”

Departures from cities to rural areas were maintained until the end of 2020, but already in the month of December the researchers appreciate “a convergence with the previously observed patterns” that makes them think that it is once again something exceptional. In this case, and waiting for the update, Miguel González-Leonardo associates the prolongation of the phenomenon to the continuity of mobility restrictions that followed the confinement: “People are looking for strategies to avoid these measures or to live in a more comfortable house, despite them”, but “we have to wait for the 2021 data to see what they tell us”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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