Options Magazine, Winter 2023: Population decline is a key demographic challenge facing modern society. While previous studies have examined population decline, less is known about the different contemporary trajectories of depopulation in small areas and their demographic and contextual factors.

A recent study published in the journal Geographical Analyses shows that while Spain recorded an overall 17.2% population growth between 2000 and 2020, 63% of municipalities experienced depopulation. Their findings demonstrate that population decline is more prevalent in rural areas (71% of rural municipalities), but also occurs in 18.9% of core cities, 6.8% of suburbs, and 15.1% of towns.

The study identifies six distinctive trajectories of population decline and reveals that populations and a birth deficit characterize trajectories with consistent and high levels of decline, while trajectories with transitions to decline are underpinned by a drop in immigration since the global financial crisis of 2008.

“With Europe at the epicenter of population decline, the EU is promoting policy measures to mitigate depopulation,” explains lead author Miguel González-Leonardo, a researcher in IIASA’s Population and Just Societies Program. “However, effective policy design requires a good understanding of different trajectories of population decline and underpinning demographic and contextual factors. Policy measures are unlikely to mitigate depopulation in rural areas experiencing trajectories of consistent and high levels of decline. Rural municipalities and small- and medium-size cities undergoing temporary and lower levels of depopulation, however, have the potential to do so, especially declining cities.”

By Jeremy Summers