Princess Leonor during military training. EFE
Why has there been an uptick of young women applying to join the army in Spain?

Why has there been an uptick of young women applying to join the army in Spain?

In what is being dubbed 'the Leonor effect', the princess' time in the army coincides with an increase in the number of young women aspiring to join the armed forces, however it's not all that meets the eye

José Antonio Guerrero


Tuesday, 23 April 2024


Spain's heir to the throne Leonor, Princess of Asturias swearing an oath of allegiance. Leonor crawling on the ground, assault rifle in hand and her face painted in camouflage. Leonor floating in the water in combat uniform. Leonor skiing during mountain manoeuvres in the Pyrenees. Leonor parading on Spain's national day in full uniform... Since 17 August, when the Princess of Asturias entered the General Military Academy of Zaragoza, thus beginning her military training, the images of the heir to the Spanish throne at different stages of her military training have brought society closer to the day-to-day life in the army of King Felipe's eldest daughter, serving up priceless publicity for the country's Armed Forces (FFAA).

In the past eight months the presence in the media of the female cadet Borbón Ortiz has not gone unnoticed. Nor has it gone unnoticed by many young women interested in embracing military life, a step they may not have considered before. It is being dubbed the Leonor effect. And proof of this is that there are more women who want to be soldiers. According to data from Spain's ministry of defence, there has been a 12% increase in the number of female candidates for one of the almost four thousand troop and sailor positions the Armed Forces have put up for grabs in the 2024 selection process. A total of 1,895 women aspire to one of these 3,976 posts, 208 more candidates than in 2023 (1,687). The increase contrasts with a decrease in the number of men, 300 fewer candidates than in 2023, a drop of 4%. Even so, men are still in the majority in the competitive examinations: 7,291, 79% of the total of 9,186 candidates, in line with what is happening in the Armed Forces, where 85% of the military are men, although the presence of women is increasing every year, the data shows.

The future Queen's training in the Spanish army will conclude at the end of May and will give way to a new cycle at the Escuela Naval Militar de Marín, in Pontevedra, where she will embark on board the Juan Sebastián de Elcano, the Navy's training ship, before concluding her military training at the Academia General del Aire in San Javier, Murcia, in the 2025-2026 academic year.

Call effect

From ATME, the association that represents the troops and sailors, the bulk of the Armed Forces, confirmed this "call effect" starring the princess, but warned future soldiers of what awaits them: "ridiculous" salaries, high rates of temporary employment and difficulties to be promoted in the military career.

According to its president, Marco Antonio Gómez, many of these candidates, both women and men, will join the Armed Forces as a way of accessing Guardia Civil, National Police or Local Police, which offer job stability and better salaries, "and which in their competitive examinations reserve quotas of up to 20% of the places for military personnel with five years' experience".

Gómez, a 50-year-old from Malaga stationed in a ground unit in Navarre, puts the net monthly salary of a soldier or sailor in his first year at 1,134 euros. This is the minimum interprofessional salary, but a lance corporal with 30 years' service, like Gómez, earns around 1,400 euros, while a typical national policeman already earns more than that amount.

Along the same lines, María Ángeles Roda, a member of Asfaspro, the Professional Association of Non-Commissioned Officers of the Armed Forces, believes many of these young female candidates, once in the competition, "will become disenchanted" with the "misleading advertising" the army offers them "economic independence", which, she said, "is not the case". "A soldier is on 24-hour duty and that is not paid. Nor are we considered a risky profession, not to mention the difficulty of reconciling family life and the difficulties of promotion," she added.

Roda joined the navy 28 years ago and today, at 48, she is a brigade officer at a base in the Cartagena Arsenal. Her official salary is around 2,100 euros, but she is a single mother and, given the difficulty to spend time with family, has requested a reduction in her working hours, which would involve a 200-euro pay cut. "Being in the military is a profession that I like; it is unsurpassable to defend our nation and all citizens, and if you have to give your life, you give it because it is our vocation, but even so, more soldiers are looking for alternative jobs in other corps," she said.

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