One of the most unique features of Spanish society is its capacity to integrate that which is different: Spain has changed in record time from being a homogeneous country, with no external immigration, to becoming one of the main receivers of immigrants in the world. During the course of two decades, Spain has received more than seven million migrants from all the continents and it has integrated them into its employment market, its health and education system and into its social life as a whole. Immigrants now account for a fifth (21%) of the population aged between 16 and 44 and 14% of the total population, these figures are at the same level as those of the USA, Germany and the UK, and ahead of France, Belgium, Holland and Italy.
Spain’s ability to attract immigration is not only related with its employment market: Spain receives thousands of European labour immigrants from wealthy countries who are seeking quality of life and a welcoming social environment. This hospitable approach has left its mark on international and local surveys in which Spain stands out for its very low rate of xenophobia and its acceptance of living alongside people of other races, religions, customs and languages. Both the comparative international data of the Pew Research Center and those of the Eurobarometer or the Royal Elcano Institute, show that Spain is one of the least xenophobic countries in Europe and the one that least sees immigration as a problem. So, in the last survey carried out by the Elcano Royal Institute in nine major European countries, the fight against irregular immigration appears as the first priority of citizens in regard to its foreign policy, in contrast with Spain where this topic sparks far less interest.
At the forefront of LGBT rights, equality and religious diversity
There are some aspects of Spanish culture which are firmly rooted in the past, such as the Easter Week processions, the running of the bulls of Pamplona or the “fallas” of Valencia, which convey the image of a perhaps more traditional Spain than what it really is. Despite the popularity of festivals which produce powerful images, Spanish society is one of the most modern and liberal in the world when comparing sexual diversity and/or gender identity, equality or the acceptance of ethnic and cultural diversity.
This same tolerance to living in harmony can be applied in Spain with regard to sexual diversity and gender identity. The Spanish state was the third in the world to approve gay marriage in 2005 and partnerships between people of the same sex are recognised as having the same rights as heterosexuals in all aspects. With this legal recognition, the State is reflecting how Spanish society feels as the vast majority of the latter (77%) support this equality, according to data from the Pew Research Center. This is percentage is higher than those of France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the UK, Sweden and Poland.
By contrast, only Nordic countries rival Spain in terms of assessing the participation of women in working life, an aspect which is backed by 80% of citizens compared with 66% in the UK, 64% in France or 56% in Germany. A percentage which has improved with the passage of time but which still needs to be worked on in order to put an end to a debate which shouldn’t even exist and which today means that there are still intolerable differences in areas such as salaries: the pay-gap exists.
As far as ethnic and religious diversity are concerned, clear differences appear once again, reflecting the tolerant, open nature of Spanish citizens: 50% of us believe that this diversity is positive for the country, compared with 21% of the French, 24% of Germans and 23% of the Polish.
Basically, Spain is one of the most tolerant countries in issues like sexual orientation and gender identity, cultural diversity or religion. Some put this down to tourism, the multiculturalism of the country itself, its past migratory experience or even a reaction against more traditional values. It is also a matter of character. We are welcoming, we live alongside those who are different or those who do not think like us we are accepting and committed to diversity.
Tolerance is an important value for living in harmony in a society that is increasingly multicultural and diverse and Spain embraces this philosophy.
- Data and graphics from Pew Research Center (October 2018)
- Pew Research Center: Acceptance of Muslims and Jews in the family.
- Demos: The culture & politics of fear in Europe.
- Council of Europe. Regarding discrimination and intolerance.