Spain is at risk of a ‘demographic time bomb,’ and there’s already a nearly-abandoned area twice the size of Belgium

Juan Martin Colomer, 84, jokes with his wife Sinforosa Sancho, 84, as he sets up a fence around their field in the village of La Estrella, Spain, on May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife have lived alone in the village in Spain's eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants.

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Juan Martin Colomer, 84, jokes with his wife Sinforosa Sancho, 84, as he sets up a fence around their field in the village of La Estrella, Spain, on May 24, 2018. For more than 30 years, Juan Martin and his wife have lived alone in the village in Spain’s eastern highlands that once had more than 200 inhabitants.
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Susana Vera/Reuters

Last year, the number of deaths in Spain outpaced the number of births at the fastest rate since the country began keeping records in the 1940s.

Women in Spain wait longer than most European women to give birth, Business Insider previously reported, and Spaniards generally live longer than anyone else in the European Union.

These factors leave Spain at the risk of becoming a “demographic time bomb,” or a place where life expectancy rises while fertility rates fall.

Demographers say countries need fertility rates of 2.2 children per woman to maintain a stable population. Women in Spain, however, have an average of 1.5 children, according to CIA data. The Spanish government hired a special commissioner in January 2017 to find ways to combat these low birth rates.

While Spain’s population increased in 2017 for the second straight year, the change was partly due to a significant rise in migrant arrivals, according to Reuters.

One village in Spain’s northeastern Aragon region already shows what a demographic time bomb can do – the town has a near-zero population, aging residents, and no childbirths.

Juan Martin Colomer and his wife, Sinforosa Sancho, said they are the only residents left in La Estrella, Spain, a village that once had more than 200 people, according to Reuters.

La Estrella is in the middle of an emerging population desert – an area twice the size of Belgium with fewer than three residents per square mile in the area. The area may soon become the least populated location in the EU. Take a look.


La Estrella is located in Spain’s eastern highlands.

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Susana Vera/Reuters

Nearly all of the homes in the village are abandoned, and “For Sale” signs still hang on some of them.

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Susana Vera/Reuters

Residents began abandoning La Estrella and other rural towns in 1939, at the end of Spain’s civil war. Here, offerings are placed behind the altar at the village sanctuary.

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Susana Vera/Reuters

Juan Martin Colomer, 84, and Sinforosa Sancho, 85, live with more than 20 cats, which often gather in the village square.

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Susana Vera/Reuters

The couple has never had a telephone line, and the only mobile signal in La Estrella can be found in an overgrown cemetery.

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Susana Vera/Reuters

Juan Martin and Sinforosa keep rabbits for meat and hens for eggs. They drive to a nearby town for other food.

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Susana Vera/Reuters

Together, the couple receives a monthly pension of about 1,200 euros ($1,400).

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Susana Vera/Reuters

Juan Martin and Sinforosa once relied on oil lamps for artificial light, but they have gotten electricity from solar panels for the past 10 years.

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Susana Vera/Reuters

Although they own a house in nearby Villafranca, they only leave La Estrella to visit Vicente, their son. Vicente was the last child to live in La Estrella.

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Susana Vera/Reuters

“We have grown up in solitude and we like it,” Juan Martin told Reuters. “La Estrella will die out with us.”

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Susana Vera/Reuters