Friday, March 17, 2006

Migration In Spain

by Edward Hugh

Immigration into Spain is proceeding, as we probably all know by now, at a globally unprecedented rate. Randy has a post on this here, and I have a slighly different take on it here.

Two researchers who are working on this topic are Marta Roig Vila (of the United Nations Population Division) and Teresa Castro Martín (of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research). They gave a paper at last years IUSSP conference: Immigrant mothers, Spanish babies: Longing for a baby-boom in a lowest-low fertility society.

In the paper they make a point which is relevant to my last post on the US:

The debate (about the role of immigration in a declining fertility context, EH) has mainly focused on the rejuvenating effect of sustained entries of young adults, and less attention has been paid to the contribution of immigrant fertility, despite the fact that the proportion of children from foreign-born mothers is increasing significantly.

As Roig Vila and Castro Martin suggest we have on offer two (slightly) competing views about the subsequent reproductive behaviour of recently arrived mothers - maintenance and adaptation:

The existing literature has put forward different hypotheses to explain and predict the fertility patterns of immigrants. Some authors suggest that the first generation of certain immigrant groups tend to maintain the reproductive norms and patterns of the country of origin(Abbasi-Shavazi and McDonald, 2002). A considerable number of studies support the adaptation hypothesis, which predicts that immigrants gradually adjust their reproductive behaviour to that of the host country (Andersson, 2004).

One of the problems in determining which of these effects dominate is that migrant populations are extremely heterogenous, as are their points of origin and their destinations. It may be hard to generalise here. The researchers are at some pains to stress the limited data they are working from and the potential limitations of the data they actually have, nonetheless they do seem to draw some tentative conclusions. They find the adaptation hypothesis to be more or less weakly confirmed:

"Our findings show that, net of the effect of age, marital status, parity and educational composition, the fertility gap between foreign and Spanish women narrows considerably. In fact, after controlling for these factors, only Northern African women present a higher risk of current fertility than Spaniards. This may reflect the fact that women from this region are more likely to migrate for marriage or family reunification rather than for work –as reflected in their low participation in the labour force–, the opposite that occurs with the rest of the immigration groups".

This result might seem strange in the light of my previous post on the impact of immigration on US fertility, but perhaps it is important to bear in mind that these results are net of age and net of educational composition, which are both likely, in and of themselves, to be extremely important: that is the age structure and the educational level of the migrants is what, for net fertility purposes, actually matters most. In both these cases the composition of hispanic migration into the US in recent years has been extremely propitious to increasing the overall fertility reading.


Abbasi-Shavazi, M. and P. McDonald (2002). A comparison of fertility patterns of European immigrants in Australia with those in the countries of origin. Genus 58(1): 53-76.

Andersson, G. (2004). Childbearing after migration: Fertility patterns of foreign-born women in Sweden. International Migration Review 38(3): 747-774.

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