Spanish youth leaving the parental household expected to remain challenging

Young Spanish people leave the parental household at almost 30 years old. According to Ayuda en Acción, housing prices and economic precariousness will likely maintain a low emancipation rate in the following years despite efforts by public authorities and better employment conditions among the young.

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The average age of young people leaving their parental home in Spain was 29.8 years in 2021, one of the highest in the European Union. Barcelona | © Izhak Agency

Spanish youth will likely remain at their parents’ place for some time.

On April 11, the Spanish non-profit Ayuda en Acción (Help in Action) published Employment and Youth in Spain: A look at 2030, anticipating the skills, employment, inequality and access to housing of young Spanish people in the next decade.

The report foresees that the emancipation rate – the share of young people who have left their parental household – will remain way below the European Union average and even become lower by 2030, despite the efforts to curb the decline by public authorities.

For the non-profit and a panel of twelve multidisciplinary experts, the emancipation of young people in Spain is made difficult by their precarious economic situations and the constant increase in real estate prices. Emancipation is “clearly linked to two elements: Access to employment and housing availability.” Yet, Spanish youth is more educated and the employment rate is improving.

One of the European Union’s highest emancipation ages

In 2021, the average age of emancipation was 29.8 years in Spain, according to Eurostat data. It was 26.5 years in the European Union, 3.3 years earlier than in Spain. With 19.0 years, Sweden recorded the lowest average age of young people leaving their parental home in the E.U., and Portugal (33.6 years) the highest.

According to the report, almost half (46.8%) of the Spanish people aged between 25 and 34 still lived with their parents in 2021, up from 36 percent in 2008 and currently 16 percentage points higher than the E.U. average. Nearly all under-25s live with their parents in Spain.

For the director of Ayuda en Acción, Fernando Mudarra, this “shows the precarious and difficult situation the new generations face. It adds to the difficulties for a part of the population, usually the most vulnerable, to build life projects and a future as they would like,” he alerted.

The emancipation age has been increasing in recent years in Spain and has become a cause of concern in the country. Young Spanish people left their parental home at 28.4 years on average before the financial crisis in 2008, a year that showed a “clear generation gap” with a “steady impoverishment of the youth relative to the general population,” the report pointed out.

In Catalonia, 83 percent of people between 16 and 29 lived with their parents in 2021, Público reported earlier this year, up from 68 percent in 2008.

After 2008, the youth unemployment rate increased in Spain, leading to financial insecurity that prevented the youth from leaving the family nest. It has then become better in the past few years. The unemployment rate for the under-25s was about 37 percent during the crisis and decreased to 29.3 percent last February.

Economic difficulties to leave the parental household

The report forecasts a further improvement in employment for the next decade, reaching a 20 percent unemployment rate for people between 15 and 29 in 2030, down from 27 percent in 2021. But despite the increasing education level of the population, a job no longer guarantees to afford a place to live on one’s own for the Spanish youth.

Young Spanish people may get more jobs, but many are still very precarious, with a prevalence of part-time contracts much higher than the older population groups.

In 2021, the temporary employment rate was 25 percent for the overall working-age population, but 69 percent for the 15-24 age group and 39 percent for the 25-34 age group. Moreover, while temporary employment decreased by 3.6 percentage points since 2008, it grew by 9.9 percentage points among people aged 15-24 and by three percentage points for those aged 25-34 during the past decade.

This financial insecurity makes it difficult to get a place.

Currently, 30 percent of the emancipated young own the place where they live, half the level of 2006. And the share of young owners is not expected to grow soon, given the current high mortgage rates and inflation.

In a country where home ownership is the primary tenure system – 75 percent of the population owned their home in 2020 – having access to rentals can help make the real estate market more dynamic as it requires smaller capital. But it hasn’t improved the emancipation age because many young people can’t pay rent with their salaries.

In Barcelona, the Spanish people under 25 needed to use 84 percent of their salaries to pay for rent in 2020, far above the usually acceptable 30 percent ratio, according to data from Institut Català del Sol. It was nearly twice as much (46%) as ten years prior. Moreover, rents in Barcelona reached an all-time high in the third quarter of 2022.

In the Baleares, it can even be higher, close to 100 percent. But there are also significant social and economic territorial differences across the country.

Emancipation rate still expected to decline despite efforts

Last year, the government of Spain launched several programs to help young Spanish people leave their parental households as part of a plan of 3.3 billion euros (3.6 billion dollars) in three years to provide “decent housing” to the population. For instance, they financially support those who move to empty rural areas.

For Raquel Sánchez Jiménez, the Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda Minister, “housing is one of the matters on which this government is focusing the most.” Last week, the ministry approved a transfer of 260 million euros (284 million dollars) to “dynamize the supply of affordable rental housing.”  End of March, it signed a protocol to build 120 affordable housing in a small city in Extremadura, one of the priority regions for the NGO.

Local public authorities also take action to promote emancipation. The Basque government supports about 15,000 young people paying their rent with financial aid or subsidized housing. Its Housing observatory explains that “job instability is an obvious explanatory factor for the low rates of emancipation.”

But despite the efforts, better economic outlook and a slight improvement in the emancipation rate last year, the expert panel forecast the share of Spanish people aged between 25 and 34 living with their parents will still increase, although at a much smaller pace than in the last decade, by 0.7 percentage point to 47.5 percent in 2030.

Ayuda en Acción hopes it could go down to 38 percent. Other than improving economic conditions, it also recommends adopting taxes for empty places to increase the supply of apartment rentals, improving the energy efficiency of buildings to reduce the costs associated with housing, more urban and rural rehabilitation projects and investments to facilitate transportation and connectivity, as well as a more substantial public dwelling stock as an alternative to the private real estate market.

The report also warns of the “enormous heterogeneity within the youth themselves, with important differences depending on whether they are employed or unemployed.” But overall, Spain’s economic situation remains the youth’s primary concern.

For 22 percent of them, unemployment is the main issue in Spain, leaving environmental challenges with less than 2.5 percent of the population between 18 and 34 who consider it Spain’s primary problem. Yet, 47 percent of young people say they are concerned about the environment, giving it the two maximum values on a 10-point scale, compared to 17 percent for the overall adult population.

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