Spain’s Inactive Population Data Casts Doubts Over GDP Figures

inactive people
Spain is the country with the highest quality of inactive population in Europe. In other words, people who are of working age, but are not looking for a job. Those who do look for work are referred to as the active population, and this is divided up into those who are working and those who are unemployed.
The 18 million people in work maintain the 4.8 million jobless, as well as the inactive. There are are total of 38 million people of working age, 20 million of whom are jobless or inactive.
Let’s look at how the equilibrium between the employed, unemployed, active and inactive population has progressed.


1) the number of people in work has dropped by 2 million people.

Men and Women
Absolute Value
2008Q4 20.055,3
2016Q1 18.029,6

2) the number of people looking for work has dropped by 380,000.

Men and Women
Absolute Value
2008Q4 23.262,1
2016Q1 22.821,0


3) the number of unemployed has risen by 1.5 million.

Men and Women
Absolute Value
2008Q4 3.206,8
2016Q1 4.791,4


4) The number of people not looking for work has risen by 400,000.

Men and Women
Absolute Value
2008Q4 15.284,5
2016Q1 15.670,8


So in seven years we have gone from having 20 people in work for every 18 unemployed and not looking for work to a completely opposite proportion: 18 people in work for every 20 unemployed and not looking for work. The coverage rate has deteriorated from 20/18 to 18/20, or from 1,13 to 0,9. In this graph, taken from Francisco Núñez in El Mundo, we can see the trend in the inactive population.

This drastic reduction in the number of people in work with respect to the population of working age, combined with the increase in GDP, should have translated into improvements in productivity. Above all because the total number of hours worked per week have fallen from 54,3 (in 2011, there is no data prior to that date) to 35,4.

In other words:

2011: 20 million in work * 54,3 hours/wk = 1086 million hours/week.

2016: 18 million in work * 43,5 hours/wk =   815 million hours/week.

All this leads me to be suspicious, yet again, about the GDP figures, remembering that graph which has been shown so many times and which highlights the decoupling of GDP from employment since 2008.

An improbable increase in job-related productivity, especially given the quality of jobs seen over the past years.

*Image: Archive

About the Author

Miguel Navascués
Miguel Navascués has worked as an economist at the Bank of Spain for 30 years, and focuses on international and monetary economics. He blogs in Spanish at: http://