Beatriz Arcos, 28, and Pablo Molina, 27, would never have met if Ciudad Real and Valladolid had offered them good working conditions. Madrid joined their paths in search of employment and love did the rest. Now they live together in the capital and have turned their living room into a pleasant office. Both belong to a generation born in provincial capitals that once could seduce young people with a university education. When they were born, in the 90s, the demographic exodus hit the towns while the medium-sized cities resisted; But the new migratory trends show that these nuclei, normally provincial capitals, are no longer able to retain that talent. La Manchega Arcos, specialist in marketing, illustrates: “Most of my friends are out [de Ciudad Real], especially here ”. The Castilian Molina, a telecommunications engineer, says that even while partying, he has known parallel stories of those who left their cities looking for opportunities.
Internal migration flows have changed in 25 years. The report From rural to interurban exodus of university graduates: the second wave of depopulation, by Miguel González and Antonio López-Gay, specialists in demography at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, reflects that the classic journey from the towns to the city has resulted in an interurban movement that monopolizes Madrid. González highlights that the capital absorbs the young and university population of provincial capitals, because those populations in the interior and northwest “have a productive fabric with little technological capacity and incapable of employing the growing number of native university students.”
The most affected community is Castilla y León, which inevitably loses highly qualified population. In 1992, 24% of young people who migrated from this region both to other areas of Spain and abroad had a university degree. In 2018, this figure rose to 60%. Territories such as Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha, Asturias or Cantabria also suffer this talent drain with the same fate. In that same 2018, 63% of young people from all over Spain who traveled to Madrid had higher education.
The sociologist Alberto del Rey, from the University of Salamanca, attributes the phenomenon in part to Spanish centralism and regional policies incapable of creating a quality labor force. In addition, it points to the previous rural exodus as a factor for the expulsion of university students, because an agricultural fabric that was accompanied by qualified personnel, such as agricultural engineers or administrative or financial specialists, is lost.
Julio López, professor of Economic Analysis at the University of Valladolid, speaks of a “bleak future” in medium-sized capitals, focused on the service sector and lacking an industrial fabric. When their young people leave, “consumption suffers”, since “the aging population has other habits”. Even the Zara store has closed in Palencia because there is not enough demand for youth clothing. “Industrial activity does not grow, there are no large companies” and the disease worsens. Castilla y León only created one in every 100 national jobs between 2002 and 2020. Without will or investment it is impossible, says López, whose students leave knowing that they will hardly return home.
On April 23, Castilla y León Day, Madrid’s Plaza del Callao, full of huge advertising screens, welcomed those who look with nostalgia at this small homeland in which they do not fit, even though it is the largest community in Europe. The dances to the sound of the dulzaina were the only joyful note in a speech against depopulation subscribed by the platforms Soria Ya!, Jóvenes de Castilla y León and Burgos Pide Paso, as well as dozens of people with many studies and little hope.
The company of Burgos Paula Onrubia, 28, has a small colony of Castilian-Leonese people. Both she and two women from Salamanca studied marketing digital, but the scarcity of opportunities deposited them in the capital. Onrubia laments that even nuclei with the university prestige of Salamanca give pumpkins to their students when they finish their studies and must make their way into the labor market.
Progress and live badly
The sociologist Alberto del Rey agrees on this regret: entrepreneurship and drive are lacking to optimize this talent. Javier Delgado, 33, says that after training in Finance in Burgos, he had to find a life outside his city until he arrived in Madrid. “Everything public is here and private synergy means that Madrid advances at the expense of its periphery,” he says. Thus, this city grows and grows, like rents, but not its working conditions. “People progress at work, but they live badly personally,” says Delgado.
The 31-year-old Diego Martín, from Valladolid, studied Business and Commerce in his city, but never found contracts there. He has spent five years in Madrid with a job, but his conditions do not conform to the growth in the cost of living: “Madrid is not a panacea.” But there is no alternative.
The dozens of testimonies are almost identical: young people who studied in cities barren of opportunities. When they return on weekends or for vacations, they explain, they find less incentives aimed at young people. It’s simple: there is no demand and they back off “like a crab.” Elena Monge, a 27-year-old administrator from Soria, laughs when asked if she contemplates going back to her origins. Physicist Rodrigo Guedas, from Salamanca, 24, laughs because most of his friends from the race also ended up in Madrid: “There is no one there.” Even the clothes are vindictive: Gonzalo Dueñas, 31, from Burgos, wears an iconic Caja Rural cap and a T-shirt that says “Mesetario”. He studied Law and Political Science, but the numbers are clear in his group: “We are 10 friends and three stayed.”
The regional dances in the Plaza de Callao cease after the regional flags are waved and cries against the abandonment felt from the institutions. Those gathered say goodbye wishing they would never see each other again in similar events, but with little hope.