Spain and the Brain Drain

One cannot help but wonder – who will be left to continue social change and to use feminine values to get the country out of the recession?

Over the past three decades Spain has gone from being a Third World country, to ‘too big to fail’ within the Eurozone. Democracy, economic growth and the welfare state meant that Spanish families saw their members go from peasants to professionals in just one or two generations. Spanish youth is currently the most educated in Spanish history. Spaniards are now reaching positions in the international arena, but Spain is failing to catch up. As a result, the thousands who are up to the challenge are leaving. Is it all due to the economic crisis? Far from it. Even before the 2008 the situation was far from ideal.

Opportunities for Spanish youth

In the early 2000s a study was carried out in the Political Science and Sociology Faculty of the Universidad Complutense in Madrid. They found that 5 years after graduation 60% of graduates worked on temporary contracts. They were, of course, privileged, as over 90% of new contracts signed every year were temporary. The other aspect of this situation is what we call “mileurismo” – university graduates who never get to earn more than 1000€ to 1500€. Why is that?

Martin Varsavsky has explained it well. In an international networked society the companies and jobs that create most value are those at the hubs. Spain is only a second degree hub at best. There are few Spanish multinationals, and even fewer who are global players (9 in the Global 500). And those few highly successful global companies benefit from a labour market where an engineer graduate will earn 16000€ in her or his first few years. The economic crisis has meant the situation has deteriorated even further, with youth unemployment reaching over 40%. Is it a wonder that Spanish graduates who speak English are choosing to go abroad to kick-start or further their careers?

What about women specifically ?

Spain is deeply Mediterranean in many of its values and tendencies. The family is a cornerstone of society in a way that is hardly understandable in Northern Europe and the English-speaking world. The welfare state is based on the idea that the family will provide first and the state will only intervene when it is insufficient. We call this phenomenon “familism”. It means that women in Spain face the burden of caring for children, the elderly and acting as the glue that keeps family together. The extended family, with a pyramid power structure and communitarian values, remains very important and women’s responsibilities extend to include it. Companies also expect extended working hours from all workers – usually 9 to 7 – and part-time work is much lower than in the rest of the EU.  The superwoman is far from dead in Spain. But younger women are wising up. Those who are highly qualified and who speak English and other languages are fleeing the country in droves. It is not just the economy, work prospects and conditions, but also stifling family and social expectations.

One cannot help but wonder – who will be left to continue social change and to use feminine values to get the country out of the recession? The sad reality is that it will be those who cannot leave due to their situation, obligations, or simply because they only speak Spanish, as well as the few who are part of the elite. In other words, those who stay are those less able to help the country move forward. The brain drain affecting many Third World countries is now fully-fledged in Spain.

Victoria Rosa Sturley is a Learning and Development Consultant passionate about diversity, learning and talent. She studied Sociology in Spain and Gender Studies in the UK. Originally from Madrid, Spain, she currently lives in London. Follow her on twitter: @VictoriaSturley

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