Young people’s plight in Spain laid bare: How more than half of under 30s struggle to make ends meet

A COMPREHENSIVE study by the BBVA Foundation and the Valencian Institute of Economic Investigation has shined a damning light on the economic status of young people in Spain.

According to the latest statistics, young people who are the breadwinners of their households make 15% less than the national average, and more than half struggle to make ends meet. 

Utilising data from the National Statistics Institute (INE), the study also found that 53.2% of Spanish people between the ages of 16 and 29 have a hard time affording their expenses, a rate that’s 5.4% higher than the national average. 

The study’s authors write that recovery from the country’s financial crisis, lasting from 2008 to 2014, was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to economic strife that’s especially acute among under-educated and under-qualified youth. 

The study, published in December 2023 and directed by University of Valencia professor emeritus Francisco Perez Garcia, aimed to gauge the economic situations of Spanish Millennials and Generation Z as they relate to factors including employment rates, education, and salaries. 

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More than half of Spanish 16-29-year-olds struggle to make ends meet, according to a new study. Credit: Pixabay

A heterogeneous cohort 

The researchers looked at recent data from various sources and concluded that, while common factors like socioeconomic status and education level affect youth employment rates, the 16-29 age group is far from homogenous, with a variety of situations contributing to their economic conditions. 

Four primary groups are described in the study, with young people who neither study nor work on one end of the spectrum, and those with a university education and stable, high-salaried jobs on the other. 

Education is key

Among some segments of the youth population, particularly Millennials and older members of Gen Z, rates of higher education are high.

Half of 25 to 29-year-olds have university studies or vocational training, four times more than in 1980. 

Education remains one of the primary drivers of social mobility, with students with university studies receiving salaries 33.8% higher than those without. 

However, the authors noted the limits of higher education as a social elevator, particularly for the less privileged youth coming from lower socioeconomic strata. 

“The educational system has not prioritised the compensation for the shortcomings of disadvantaged students in the allocation of its resources,” they wrote. 

Low salaries

Across all groups, average salaries among young people remain 35% lower than the national average.

On top of this, the researchers noted that young people today take longer to reach average income levels than their older counterparts did.

Older generations approached this average by the age of 27, whereas today, many adults in Spain still haven’t reached it by the age of 34. 

The study also found that young peoples’ working conditions can affect their earning potential.

Among Spanish Millennials and members of Generation Z, 25.4% worked under part-time contracts, which is 12% more than the national average.

And according to statistics from Eurostat, 18.1% of employed people in Spain were temporary workers  — people working on fixed-term contracts — in 2022, the second highest rate in the EU, behind only The Netherlands. 

“Demographic weight loss”

Additionally, the authors noted that the backdrop of a rapidly ageing population has led to a lessening of attention given to youth issues by policy makers, in what researchers have called “demographic weight loss.” 

The study highlights the diminishing weight of young people in Spain as a percentage of the total population.

Despite the fact that Spain’s population increased from 34 million in 1971 to 47 million in 2022, the population of 16-29 year olds has experienced a sharp decline.

Reaching its peak of 9.3 million in 1995, the youth demographic has since decreased to around 6.8 million.

Meanwhile, the number of older people is increasing. In 2022, there were 133 people older than 64 for every 100 people under 16. 

This trend is consistent with the European Union at large.

In 2001, 16% of the EU population was over 65, compared to 21% in 2020, while the percentage of the EU population over 80 nearly doubled during the same time period. 


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