Malaga's two main dormitory towns, Alhaurín de la Torre and Rincón de la Victoria, enjoy a higher level of financial wellbeing and the lowest poverty rates in the province. If we include Malaga city itself, which is third on the list, it is clear that the highest average incomes per household, over 30,000 euros a year, are concentrated in the metropolitan area. The average for the province is 27,084 euros a year and for Andalucía it is 27,119 euros.
The atlas of household income distribution for 2020, produced by the National Institute of Statistics (INE), places Alhaurín de la Torre at the top of the list of highest-earning households, with a figure of 34,174 euros.
This was 100 euros (0.3%) lower than the previous year, which can be attributed to the pandemic. Alhaurín has held the top place in the province since 2017, when it overtook Rincón de la Victoria, which is now in second place with 33,519 euros, an increase of 1.1% compared with 2019.
Third is Malaga city with 30,219 euros a year (a drop of 0.7%), and Antequera and Marbella make up the remainder of the top five with 28,104 and 27,930 euros. The variations compared with the previous year are +0.1% and -3.5% respectively.
None of the towns in Malaga province are among the ten wealthiest in Andalucía, however. Alhaurín de la Torre is 11th on that list. All the top ten are in Seville province with the exception of two in Jaén.
Some readers may remember when it was not Alhaurín but Benahavís that topped the list of the wealthiest places in Malaga province. It isn't that Alhaurín has overtaken it: the ranking headed by Benahavís is drawn up by the tax authority using a different methodology to the INE. It divides the total declared income for each municipality by the number of tax returns presented, while the atlas of household income distribution divides the total income by the number of resident households in each place.
What do the municipalities with the highest income levels have in common? Juan González Alegre, a senior lecturer in Economic Theory and History at Malaga University, says that after analysing numerous variables (size of the municipality, average age, proportion of immigrant population, size of the household etc), in his opinion the two most relevant factors regarding the purchasing power in each town are the percentage of the population with higher education and the unemployment rate.
"The more there are of the first and the fewer of the second, the greater the probability that the average income per household will be higher," he explains.
The unemployment rate also correlates with another indicator, in this case connected with economic inequality: the poverty level.
Alhaurín de la Torre is the second municipality in the province with the lowest percentage of its population living below the poverty threshold: 21.2%, when the provincial average is 29.2%.
This means that, as well as a high average income, Alhaurín enjoys a more level socioeconomic profile.
Alhaurín's economic boom has a lot to do with its transformation in recent decades to what it is today: a magnet for young, middle-income families, most of whom are originally from Malaga city and attracted by the tranquility of the residential developments.
"What Alhaurín de la Torre offers is quality of life," says the mayor, Joaquín Villanova, listing the facilities the town has to offer: 12 parks ("we have more green zones per inhabitant than any other town in Spain," he says), over 60 children's playgrounds, 22 athletics tracks, two indoor sports pavilions, an indoor swimming pool, a municipal spa, plenty of cultural activities, and because it has one of the highest rates of property tax in the province the town hall can rely on a steady flow of income to continue investing: 10 million euros a year are available to spend on new facilities, Villanova says.
The pandemic has only increased the attraction of this town, with its low-density and plentiful housing. However, there are still traffic problems which the mayor hopes will be resolved by widening the main road - those works will begin in the near future - and the arterial road which is planned for two years' time.
Cintia Ortiz is an example of the type of residents who were attracted by Alhaurín de la Torre. She works for Zara and her husband has a small company which carries out renovation works. They used to live with their two daughters in Malaga city, and they came to Alhaurín because they wanted a house with a garden "where we could breathe," she says.
"We moved into a rented property three years ago and we have just bought a house. We love living here because it's peaceful, there are parks and green zones and everything has been planned with families in mind. For me, it is a model of how places should be," Ortiz says, and she now feels "suffocated" when she visits Malaga. "The traffic, the difficulty parking, people everywhere. We don't have those problems here," she explains.
With a different urban structure (greater density) Rincón de la Victoria, the second municipality in the province in terms of income per household and the one with the lowest poverty rate (19.7%), also functions as a magnet for young families from Malaga.
Marbella, which is the luxury capital of the Costa del Sol, does not appear on the list until fifth place, after Malaga and Antequera, and it has a higher than average poverty rate, at 30.8%.
At the other end of the ranking are the places with the lowest average income per household: the villages of Sedella, Jubrique, Sayalonga, El Borge and Arenas. Apart from Jubrique, which is in the Serranía de Ronda, they are all in the Axarquía region.
The average income per family here (16,354 euros a year in the case of Sedella) is half that of Alhaurín de la Torre (34,174). González Alegre explains that there is "a strong correlation between a high proportion of the population working in the primary sector and a lower average income".
But, of course, there are advantages to living in these villages as well: the cost of living is much lower than in large coastal towns, including the price of housing.