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Women in Spain

by Elizabeth Villagómez

Since the end of the dictatorship in 1974 Spain has made a huge progress regarding the equal rights of men and women. However, this process is not yet completed. Elizabeth Villagomez describes the development and with the use of numbers and facts she shows, in what situation women are really in.

Women's advancement in Spain can be said to be spectacular in all areas since the re-establishment of democracy as of 1976. The political and social changes brought about in Spain since 1974 after the long and hard dictatorship and the entry into the European Community in 1986 are fundamental events in the situation of women as equal opportunity laws between men and women were introduced in line with the Spanish Constitution of 1978.

Photo: photocase

Even just before the death of the dictator the blatant juridical inequalities and social pressures from within and abroad forced for some changes in the legislation with respect to women's recognition as "adults" freeing them from the tutelage of their fathers, husbands or brothers that was fully developed and consolidated when transition to democracy began. The transposition of European legislation on this subject that were later introduced were a further step in improving women's rights and equality. In addition Spain is signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly including its optional protocol and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 and subsequent implementation, review and follow-up. More recently, under the 2004-2008 socialist government, a number of laws have been introduced and others changed in order to strengthen equality between women and men. The most important of these have been the Comprehensive Law against gender based Violence and the Effective Law on Equality between Women and Men (which includes many changes to a number of already existing laws and introduces new rights for both women and men such as reconciliation of work and family life). However, although these pieces of legislation are an improvement, other laws dealing with issues of reproductive rights are being re-considered under a backlash by religious and conservative groups due to recent arrests of women and closing down of private abortion clinics that might have exceeded the lawful limits on the gestation period.

In the following pages a statistical picture and analysis of women's evolution and most recent situation is presented using publicly available official statistics and official and other reports produced by private and public researchers or women's rights groups. The most important thing to keep in mind throughout is that the average improvement reflected is not evenly distributed among women when taking into account age, national origin, ethnic group, socio-economic class, disability, place of residence, sexual preference, family status, etc. In other words, in some cases the position of women with respect to men in those groups might be better or, most likely, worse. These differences will be included whenever data available makes it possible. The approach is to show progress, but also to show in what areas improvement still needs to be addressed.


The natural increase of the population (deaths minus births) until the year 2000 showed, as in most EU countries, larger proportions of women than men given women's longer life expectancy[1]. Moreover, Spain has by far the best life expectancy averages compared to the EU averages, especially in the case of women. However, the large influx of immigrants since 1998 had turned the count in favour of men until 2006. The central ages reflect the largest changes in population most clearly, given that the immigrant population is younger on average (see Table 1). However, the percentage of immigrant women by the end of 2006 was more than 50% of total immigrant population with strong differences by region of origin. These differences can also be observed in Table 1.

Table 1. Basic demographic data, 2006

  Total Immigrants EU Rest of Europe Latin America Rest of the world
Men 1956.3 316.9 335.5 793.6 510.2
Women 1969.8 313.7 375.3 965.1 315.7

  Age groups Spanish population
Immigrant population
Men 0 to 15 16.77 9.16
16 to 24 10.77 14.10
25 to 34 16.63 31.06
35 to 44 15.87 24.30
45 to 54 13.56 11.10
55 and over 26.41 10.28
Women 0 to 15 15.46 9.28
16 to 24 9.76 16.56
25 to 34 14.90 30.76
35 to 44 15.20 20.41
45 to 54 13.17 11.36
55 and over 31.50 11.63
Source: EPA (LFS), INE

The average number of children per woman between 15 and 49 years of age in Spain has had a very negative evolution since 1978 when this indicator was 2.8 and by 1998 it had reached 1.16. Since then, the indicator has improved, coinciding with the large influx of immigrants, and reached 1.34 by 2005. Births among immigrant women, and also among women of Roma ethnic origin[2], are larger than for the rest of the Spanish population. In 1998 the total number of births by immigrant women represented 4.2% of the total and by 2004 the figure had reached 13.9%. It is also important to note that among Spanish women the average age for first time maternity has increased from 28.8 in 1975 to 30.9 in 2004. On the other hand, the number of abortions since 1995 has increased from 5.5 per 1000 women to 8.94 by 2004. The highest increase has been registered for minors under 15 years of age (135% between 2000 and 2004) and adolescents between 15 and 19 (29%).

As to family composition, the nuclear family (married with or without children) is the most common type of family. However, there has been an increase in other family types, especially one-person households (mostly older women), single parent households (also mostly headed by women but an increasing number of men as well), and unmarried couples and same sex couples. Moreover, the number of marriages per 1000 population has dropped from 7.6 in 1975 to 4.8 in 2005, while divorces population have increased 243% between 1994 and 2005.

Thus, women in Spain continue to have one of the largest life expectancies of the EU, one of the lowest fertility rates (which is changing due to immigration) and are more likely to be heading single parent households or living on their own at older ages than men. As we will analyse below these demographic figures are driven by and influence other dramatic socio-economic changes that have taken place in the past 30 years.

[1] This section is based largely on the National Institute for Statistics (INE) publication "Women and Men in Spain 2007" and on official data by the same institute calculated by the author. The special surveys on the Roma population and disabled population have also been used. See reference section for full details.

[2] Although no exact official figures are available, a recent socio economic survey of the Spanish Roma population has revealed that the percentage of children between 0 and 9 years of age represent 17% of the population, compare to 9.4% of the rest of the Spanish population.


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Elizabeth Villagómez
Elizabeth Villagómez, is Senior partner, Almenara Estudios Económicos y Sociales, S.L.
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