Farewell, Barcelona: covid drives people out of the city

The capital loses about 13,000 inhabitants and breaks the trend of growth of recent years

3 min
Aerial image of the Catalan capital, where the rental price is stabilized.

BarcelonaThe covid crisis has led some residents of big cities like Barcelona to look for a different way of life, in less dense environments, with more nature. For five years Barcelona has been gaining inhabitants in a moderate but constant way, mainly due to the arrival of foreign population -more than half of Barcelona's inhabitants were born outside the city-, but the pandemic has also marked a turning point in this trend and now the curve is declining. This has meant a drop of around 0.8% -with data closed in October-, which has not been seen for a decade. It is added to the excess mortality due to the pandemic, the brake on immigration -more people are leaving than arriving- and the fact that many Barcelona residents, now working from home, have sought more comfortable places to spend the months of restrictions. Some have moved to second homes in small beach towns or mountain areas, and others have moved to smaller residential towns.

This is reflected in the analysis of the migratory movement in time of covid-19 that the Municipal Data Office has prepared based on information from the census between January and October 2020 and with the warning to interpret the figures carefully, since they reflect a short period of time. The snapshot of the moment shows that the city has lost, in these months, 13,094 inhabitants.

Entering the field of possible explanations for the phenomenon, there are about 3,600 casualties that can be attributed to the overmortality caused by covid until October, and the City Council estimates that between 3,000 and 5,000 Barcelona residents have registered in other Catalan municipalities, where they probably had a second residence. Therefore, the population flow between Barcelona and municipalities such as l'Escala (Alt Empordà), Sant Pol (Maresme) and Roda de Berà (Tarragonès) has increased significantly. An "atypical" growth, according to the analysis of the City Council.

To draw conclusions about whether these movements are anecdotal and will change when everything is returning to the expected normality is hasty, according to those responsible for the study, because of the difficulty of analyzing census data in such short periods of time and because the covid has shaken everything. "It could be just an accident", defends the alderman of Presidency, Jordi Martí, regarding the tendency of the city to send neighbors to other Catalan municipalities. Until now, Barcelona did not send people, but received people from Catalonia and from other countries. With covid, the city's migratory balance has become negative.

Immigration plummets

From June, when the city's records returned to normal after the general shutdown due to lockdown, until October, which are the latest consolidated data, emigration has increased by 8% compared to the same period last year, but, on the other hand, the number of people arriving from abroad has plummeted by 43.7%. In other words, while 28,152 people have left Barcelona, only 23,469 have arrived. And the birth rate has also been gradually decreasing and has fallen below a thousand births a month: it now fluctuates between 900 and 950.

If we look at the internal movements of the inhabitants of Barcelona to other Catalan towns, it stands out that now more small municipalities of less than 5,000 inhabitants are chosen, and that localities with a marked tourist profile such as Bellver de Cerdanya and Calafell (Baix Penedès), where changes in the migratory balance have been detected, are receiving population. But also more residential towns, such as Sant Cugat del Vallès. The study found that the Barcelonians who made this move lived, for the most part, in neighborhoods with higher incomes than the city average. The highest emigration rates are in areas such as Pedralbes, Tres Torres and the Olympic Village of Poblenou and Diagonal Mar. The movements could be associated with a population profile with a medium-high or high income level, which has the possibility of working remotely and looking for places to better spend the pandemic.

The picture, warns the City Council, is still too fresh to draw conclusions and it will be necessary to monitor the situation over the coming months, especially as restrictions are relaxed with the advance of vaccination, to determine whether the trend to flee the big city has come hand in hand with the covid to stay - or if it is just an anecdote of the moment.