Infographic / Encarni Hinojosa

Malaga province leads population growth in Spain for second year running

The area gained 20,652 inhabitants in 2021 and accounts for 41 per cent of the additional population in the country

NURIA TRIGUERO MALAGA.

Malaga province is becoming the biggest magnet for population in the whole country. In 2021, for the second year running, it was the province of Spain which gained the most new inhabitants, in absolute terms as well as a proportion of its previous population.

According to the latest figures, on 1 January this year the 103 municipalities in Malaga province had a total of 1,716,303 inhabitants. That is exactly 20,652 more than a year previously, and an increase of 1.22%. This places Malaga in the lead regarding population growth in Spain. In fact, Malaga alone accounts for 41% of the 50,490 people who came to this country or registered as resident during the past year.

It cannot be coincidence that the provinces just below Malaga in the ranking of demographic growth in 2021 are all on the Mediterranean coast: Alicante (+15,561), Valencia (+13,813), Murcia (+12,953), Almería (+7,501), Tarragona (+6,915), Barcelona (+6,181) and Gerona (+5,698). It is striking, on the other hand, that the region of Madrid has lost nearly 6,800 inhabitants and is the second province showing a downward trend in absolute terms after Asturias, which has lost 7,293 of its population.

The increase in population in Malaga province was greater in 2021 than in 2020, when it gained 12,747 inhabitants thanks to the arrival or registration of people from other regions and countries, whether retired or of working age.

It seems the trend which was triggered by the pandemic is continuing: the province, and especially Malaga city and the Costa del Sol, is proving attractive to people who want to move for a variety of reasons: from those who want to spend their retirement in a nice place, with good communications and services, to those who are looking for job opportunities or, taking advantage of the fact that they can work from home, others who decide to give priority to their quality of life and escape from big cities.

"Sweet moment"

For Jesús Delgado, a lecturer who heads the Geography Department of Malaga University, there is an indisputable relationship between the strong growth in population in recent years and the "sweet moment" that Malaga is enjoying.

"The city has become known worldwide, not just as a tourist destination but also as a hub to attract talent and investment, because multinationals like Google and Vodafone have set up here," he says. "The extra media coverage has come amid a context of an increase in remote working, which means many people realise that they do not have to live where they work."

Malaga's situation is part of a more general trend: "the pull of the Spanish coast as a dynamic axis is attracting a lot of population, in contrast to the exodus from rural areas," Delgado says.

The data supports his theory: Castilla y León and Asturias are the regions which have lost the most population over the past year.

"The crisis in rural areas, far from being resolved, is getting worse," says Delgado.

Expectations exceeded

The attraction of Malaga as a place to live has been so great that the population forecasts from just six years ago by the Institute of Statistics and Cartography of Andalucía (IECA) fell considerably short. They indicated that by the year 2040 the province of Malaga would have 1,722,000 inhabitants, but the figure is already very close to that: only 6,000 more are needed to reach it.

Jesús Delgado believes it is probable that this strong growth in population will be maintained in the next few years, which will take Malaga into a situation where its population level is going to create new challenges and aggravate already existing problems such as traffic, shortage of water and sewage treatment facilities.

"Looking at these figures, planning needs to be carried out now by those who govern us, so that Malaga doesn't become a victim of its own success," he says.

Spain's population growth resumed in 2021, with an increase of 50,490 inhabitants after a brutal reduction of over 106,000 during the year of the lockdown. Figures from the INE show that 2020 marked a painful break in the upward trend which began in 2016.

The leap in population can be explained by the arrival of foreigners. Last year the foreign population of Spain rose by 72,410, due mainly to the arrival of those from non-EU countries, but also helped by the return of 13,400 from other European countries who had returned to their places of origin because of the pandemic.