Large towns along the coast are gaining in terms of population and those inland are progressively losing theirs. That is a simple way of summing up the way the registered population in the 103 municipalities in Malaga province has evolved in the past decade, a period during which we moved from the boom in construction to the economic crisis and then a moderate recovery in the most recent years.
There are some exceptions, but the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), compiled on 1 January 2017, show that since 2007 the population has only increased in 37 places in the province.
In Malaga as a whole, there has been an increase of 113,092 people on the municipal population registers during the past ten years, giving a total of 1,630,615. Most of these were in towns on the coast or in the metropolitan area of Malaga city. Benalmádena tops the list, having obtained 16,642 new inhabitants and increased from 52,217 to 68,859 in ten years.
Marbella, which has the second highest population in the province after Malaga city, with 141,172 inhabitants, has gained 14,750. Third is Mijas, where the population has increased from 64,288 to 77,151. Fourth is Vélez-Málaga, which has gained 10,274 inhabitants, reaching a total of 79,878, making it the municipality with the third highest number of inhabitants in the province. Fuengirola, after gaining 9,508, has progressed from 65,421 to 74,929 and occupies fifth place on the list. Rincón de la Victoria, with 9,424 more inhabitants, comes sixth. Its population register showed 35,714 inhabitants in 2007 and it now has 45,138.
The population has also increased in the Malaga metropolitan area, such as in Alhaurín de la Torre, which gained 7,269 inhabitants, rising from 31,884 to 39,153, and Cártama, which has gone up from 18,865 to 25,317.
Estepona's population register now shows an extra 6,535 inhabitants, bringing the total to 66,863. Among the places where the population has risen considerably is Benahavís: in ten years its population increased from 3,253 to 7,348, mainly due to an influx of foreign residents.
On the contrary, among those which have lost the most inhabitants in the past decade are the inland towns of Antequera and Ronda. Antequera has lost 3,443 inhabitants in ten years as the village of Villanueva de la Concepción split away, dropping from 44,547 to 41,104, and in Ronda the population has dropped from 36,122 to 34,268, a difference of 1,854.
The situation of Antequera is particularly surprising because it has seen improved communications and is economically stable due to its strategic location. In the case of Ronda, the figure is not as bad as it seems: its outlying districts of Montecorto and Serrato have both become independent recently and now have their own population registers. However, lack of a motorway are still hindering Ronda's growth in population.
The drop in the other inland municipalities is not as great in absolute terms, but is a matter of concern, especially in the case of small villages with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. In fact, 29 (almost one third) have a population of less than 1,000.
The Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP) has asked the government to take urgent measures to tackle this demographic challenge, and Quique Navarro, a lecturer in geography at Malaga university, says rural depopulation has serious consequences.
“Malaga province's situation is not as bad as elsewhere but urgent plans are needed to develop tourism, farming and artisan crafts,” he says.