Depopulation in the Valencian Community: A Shared Challenge between Spain and Japan

Spain is facing a similar issue to Japan in its rural areas: depopulation. In Spain, rural areas are experiencing a decline in population, primarily due to low birth rates and young people moving to large cities. Today, I would like to share an article published this week that addresses this problem in my homeland, the Valencian Community.

According to the 2021 population and housing census published by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) on June 30th, 75.67% of the dwellings in the municipalities with the lowest population in the Valencian Community are vacant, meaning they are not the habitual residences of any families. This is one of the conclusions drawn from the analysis of the 24 municipalities that are part of Route 99, except for Sempere, for which limited data is available. Route 99 is an initiative by the Valencian Government that includes towns with fewer than 100 inhabitants in the region. The aim of this project is to promote these places, highlight their tourism potential, and encourage new residents to settle in these municipalities to combat the depopulation they have been experiencing for decades.

One way to analyze the extent of depopulation is through the percentage of vacant homes, although it should be noted that some of these dwellings may be used for vacation or sporadic stays. Nevertheless, it reflects that no municipality with more than 2,000 inhabitants has over 50% of its total housing stock designated for occasional use, whereas in tourist municipalities such as Oropesa del Mar, Daimús, or Peñíscola, sporadically used homes account for less than a third of the total.

It is important to remember that the aforementioned indicator is only collected by the INE in municipalities with a population of over 2,000. Therefore, in the analyzed towns, only the number of primary and secondary residences can be quantified. The smallest municipalities in the Valencian Community consist of 3,342 homes, out of which 2,529 are vacant and 813 are occupied. Regarding the tenure status of these occupied homes, the INE reports 492 as owner-occupied, 126 as rented, and 195 under “other tenure arrangements.”

The percentage of vacant housing has slightly increased compared to a decade ago when the average vacancy rate was 72.17%. This 3.5% increase aligns with the population decline these municipalities have experienced in the last decade. Specifically, the total population has decreased from 1,841 to 1,556, representing a 15.48% decline. The municipality of Fuentes de Ayódar has experienced the largest decrease, going from 155 to 93 inhabitants, which is 62 fewer residents than in 2011.

However, there are six municipalities in the Valencian Community that have shown a slight positive population growth in the past 10 years. Pavías has gained 13 residents, Carrícola and Torralba del Pinar have gained 9, Castell de Cabres has gained 5, and Benillup has gained 4. The numbers for Carrícola and Benillup have allowed both towns to surpass the 100-resident mark.

On average, there are fewer than 2 people per household in these areas. This indicator also provides data on the number of individuals per household, indicating an average of 1.89 residents in these towns.

The population and housing census offers additional indicators, such as age, nationality, and employment status of residents in each municipality. However, it should be noted that not all towns provide this type of data due to confidentiality and statistical secrecy reasons. Therefore, the following data refers only to the municipalities with fewer than 100 inhabitants for which indicators are available.

Regarding age groups, the population under 16 years old represents only 81 individuals in these areas, accounting for 5.33% of the total population. Specifically, six municipalities have no young people within their census: Benimassot, Famorca, Tollos, Higueras, Torralba del Pinar, and Villanueva de Viver. The age group with the largest number of people is between 16 and 64 years old, representing 64.82% of the population. In contrast, individuals over 65 years old make up 29.65% of the total population.

These data are further supplemented by the activity rate in these municipalities. Around 45.53% of residents are considered inactive, excluding those under 15 years old for whom this rate is not applicable. This means that 786 individuals are part of the active population, while 732 individuals are inactive or below the legal working age.

Interior regions in the Valencian Community have experienced rural exodus in recent decades, resulting in population decline and reduced employment opportunities.

In light of these circumstances, the Generalitat (Valencian Government) has focused on addressing depopulation, especially during the previous legislature. In August 2019, the Council presented Avant, the Valencian Antidepopulation Agenda, a project that began to take shape in the previous term. Currently, Avant includes 178 municipalities from all provinces, which, through various projects and direct investments, seek to “halt depopulation, improve the quality of life for residents, and promote sustainable economic growth” in these towns. One of the programs launched a year ago is the aforementioned Route 99.