Some crises never end.
Portugal suffered, along with the countries of southern Europe, a brutal blow in 2011, when it requested a rescue of 78,000 million euros from Brussels.
To the sovereign debt crisis was added the austerity crisis imposed by the owners of the borrowed money (European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank).
He left, the country normalized and new and unthinkable emergencies arrived (the coronavirus and the war in Ukraine), but the effects of the euro crisis have returned harshly thanks to the census data produced every decade by the National Institute Statistics: the 10.34 million inhabitants of Portugal are a demographic step backwards.
The country has suffered a setback for the second time since the population began to be counted in 1864.
According to UN data, Portuguese emigrants settled in other countries exceeded two million in 2020, the highest figure in the last three decades.
The decade between 2011 and 2021 is already as bleak for the Portuguese as the 1960s.
If then the population fell by 2.54%, now it has lost 2.1%.
Other comparisons are more worrisome.
If then there were almost three children under 14 for every person over 65, now the elderly almost double the minors.
If poorly educated generations in which the State had invested nothing fled poverty then, now young people with university degrees under their arms are leaving (11% of emigrants in 2015).
If before the Portuguese left with the idea of returning, now the most educated are committed to developing their life project in their host country, according to an investigation promoted by the Emigration Observatory.
“Between 2008 and 2015, a million people have left the country and a good part have not returned,” Pedro Góis, a sociologist and researcher at the University of Coimbra, said by phone.
"The number of departures was similar in the southern European countries hit by the crisis, such as Italy or Spain, but the impact is greater in those with smaller populations such as Portugal or Greece," he explains.
"Having so many people who must seek solutions for their lives outside the country is a great indicator of our collective misery," lamented
the president of the Portuguese Demographic Association, Paulo Machado, in an interview in the
newspaper, before calling for an urgent debate. in Parliament on the subject.
The census has surprised and alarmed specialists more than politicians.
Portugal is already the third country in the world, behind Japan and Italy, with the highest rate of aging: those over 65 now represent 23.4% compared to 12.9% of those under 14 years of age.
Life expectancy has been gained and generational replacement has been lost.
Portuguese women have fewer children (1.4 on average, according to the 2020 fertility rate), in a trend common to other Western countries.
The drop in birth rates, however, was aggravated by the massive emigration of young women.
In the last decade, the population pyramid places the main female demographic decline between the ages of 25 and 39.
What is around the corner does not invite hope.
Two closely related data for pessimism appear in a survey carried out in 2020 by the Francisco Manuel dos Santos Foundation among young people aged 15 to 34: 72% earned less than 950 euros net per month in Portugal and 30% planned to emigrate.
The labor market is accused of demographic change.
"For every 100 individuals who leave, only 76 enter," highlights the National Institute of Statistics.
"Between 2011 and 2021, the sustainability and rejuvenation of the active population has worsened," they add in their report.
If the demographic figures are not more critical, it is thanks to a paradox.
The Portuguese look abroad for opportunities that they cannot find inside (a society with low wages and high cost of living), while foreigners settle in Portuguese cities, attracted in some cases by tax advantages and the demand for labor in others.
“Without immigrants, the population pyramid would be even more unbalanced among the active population,” highlights Pedro Góis, a migration specialist.
“A part of those born are to foreign mothers, we need to have policies to stabilize this population.
My question is whether these people will stay in the country or if they only feed the job market.
Politically, the step of integrating immigrants has to be taken so that they stay.
The demographics have changed radically in the last three decades, but the policies have not”
Pedro Góis, sociologist
In 2021, 542,314 foreigners resided in the country, 5.2% of the population.
A notable increase compared to 3.7% in 2011, although far from Germany, France or Italy, which exceed 10%.
The most present communities come from former colonies such as Brazil, Angola or Cape Verde, followed by the United Kingdom.
"Without foreigners, the entire country would be in a situation of demographic suicide, as is already the case in some regions of the interior," warns João Peixoto, professor at the Higher Institute of Economics and Management, in
In the 21st century, the depopulation of a large part of the country and concentration on the coastline is worsening.
20% of the population crowds into seven municipalities that occupy 1.1% of the territory and abandons towns such as Barrancos, one of the smallest in Portugal with 1,435 residents.
Located in La Raya, a short walk from Encinasola (Huelva), it purges the distance from the Portuguese cities.
It has ham with designation of origin and exceptional authorization from the Assembly of the Republic to kill bulls in the bullring.
It is also the continental town where the population has shrunk the most.
Between 2011 and 2021 it lost 21.59% of its census.
In an interview on TSF radio, the mayor of Barrancos, João Nunes, called for more resounding support to stop the demographic exodus: “There has to be a much stronger set of measures than the one that exists, with support for companies and tax exemptions .
Otherwise it is not possible to determine the population”.
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