Barcelona Field Studies Centre

Barcelona: key social and economic changes 1996 - 2001

  • The number of immigrants has quadrupled in 6 years, from 1.9% to 7.6% of the total population of 1.5 million
  • The abandonment of manufacturing industry and the almost complete domination of the service sector, as well as the progressive growth of the new technologies.
  • Nearly 60% of homes are equipped with a computer.
  • Consolidation as a tourist destination.
  • Spectacular increase in house prices.
  • Rapidly ageing population.


The arrival of new immigrants - there were hardly 29,000 six years ago and now they are more than 113,000 - has allowed the population to stabilise at 1.5 million inhabitants after years of reduction. The population is similar to that reached in 1958 and far below the 1979 maximum (1.9 million). The foreign presence is very significant in the numbers of children below the age of 10 years and in the district of Ciutat Vella (26% of the total). It widely surpasses the Catalan average (4.4%) and Spanish (3%). The main immigrant groups in the city are from Ecuador (17,000), Morocco (9,700), Colombia (9,600), Peru (8,600), Pakistan (6,000) and Dominica (5,000).


The population of the metropolitan region has increased to 4.4 million and is now the sixth largest in the EU, just behind Madrid. Barcelona is placed in the continent's top ten in numerous industrial sectors, headed by tourism and is assessed as being among the six leading European areas with greatest economic growth potential. It regularly scores first place in European polls for quality of life of the workforce.
Barcelona is more than anything a tertiary city, with 80% of the workforce employed in services and commerce. Unemployment, at 6.5%, is far below the Spanish average, especially amongst the women (10% lower).
There are 100,000 more women in Barcelona than men due to an imbalance amongst the elderly. Females live on average until 82.6 years of age, seven more than men.
Gràcia and the Eixample are the districts with the greatest ageing, whereas Sant Andreu and Sant Martí have the youngest age groups.


The price of second-hand houses has increased by up to 60% since 1996, practically reaching the levels of new homes. The cost of commercial premises has also increased (19%) and offices (42%). The rate of new constructions has decreased since 1999, although a strong demand for offices and hotels remains.

New Technologies

Some 39.7% of homes are connected to the internet,  and 45% of the jobs are in knowledge-based industries, with high technical requirements -  47% of the total for Catalunya. The high-tech zone 22@ in Poblenou appears to be a growing success story, with 30% of the land already under construction.

Public Transport

The metro had 305 million journeys in 2001, compared to 269 million in 1996, and is the preferred form of transport. Only 187 million journeys were made by bus. The bus lane network, on the other hand, has grown by 37% since 1998, and is second behind Paris, in the European large city league with space allocated to these vehicles. The bicycle lane network is now 116 kilometers, with 23 kilometres created in the last three years.


There has been little increase in traffic volume, but the number of road accidents has seen a 25% increase (from 11,900 to 14,264). In percentage terms, this is an increase of 25%. The main victims of these accidents are moped riders; in just three years, the number of mopeds has grown by 7% to 240,000, whereas the number of cars has decreased by 8.6% (from 414 to 406 cars per thousand inhabitants). The greatest growth has been registered in the number of commercial vehicles: 14%. This tendency indicates that public transport is favoured for movement inside the city, and that the car is favoured for journeys outside the urban limits. The intensity of traffic has increased by 7% on city perimeter journeys but journeys into the city have decreased by 1.7%. There has been a consequent reduction in traffic speed from 66 to 57 kilometers per hour on the outer ring roads.


Burglaries have decreased (from 12,033 to 9,638, a reduction of 19.9%), but the number of reported thefts (robberies without violence), have increased sharply to 13,686 (8,958 in 1996). Other crimes have stayed relatively stable, e.g. robberies with intimidation (10,766 in 2001) and vehicle theft (7,774 in the same year). The jailed population has increased by 23% from 1,954 to 2,403.


There were 8 million visitors to the city in 2001 compared to  6.3 million in 1996. The airport had 5.3 million passengers in 1996 compared with 9.9 million in 2001. The city had 203 hotels with 34,300 beds in 2001 compared to 167 hotels (28,000 beds) in 1996: a growth of 22,3%. Most of the travellers came for a holiday (52.8%),with 32.8% on business trips. Barcelona has become the tenth largest European city in the organization of congresses and conventions, and number 14 in the world-wide ranking. Last year 1,345 congresses were organized, 513 more than in 1996. The Fira of Barcelona organized 50 exhibitions in 1996 compared to 64 in 2001.

Social Services

Some 3,000 children and 773 women were in care in 2001, with a 152% increase in free meal provision over the 1996 statistics.