Ageing in rural areas: an opportunity to change gender relations?

Begoña Elizalde-San Miguel, Public University of Navarra

In rural areas, there are higher levels of ageing than in the rest of Spain. Furthermore, these are masculinised regions, with a higher proportion of men, as it was women who emigrated most during the second half of the last century. This deficit of women leads to the non-feasibility of the traditional care model, which depended on wives and daughters. It is necessary to reflect on whether it is possible to meet the care expectations that elderly people living in rural areas have, and also on the role that men can play as caregivers in these regions.
Key points
  • 1
       In rural areas, the desire of elderly people to remain in their homes and be cared for by their family members turns out to be unfeasible in many cases.
  • 2
       The relationship between ageing and the environment is evident: the smaller the municipality, the larger the proportion of elderly population that it contains. Thus, for example, people aged over 80 years represent over 10% of the population in villages with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, while the total values for Spain do not reach 6%.
  • 3
       Without relatives living nearby, with a deficit of female population and with a large part of the population being elderly, the care needs in the rural environment will need to be resolved through the incorporation of new actors.
  • 4
       The incorporation of men into caregiving is a need imposed by demographic imbalances that, nevertheless, is desirable because it represents an opportunity to transform a historical gender gap that excluded men from these activities that are so necessary for sustaining life.
  • 5
       Given the difficulties posed for males who are direct family members and take on the task of caring in rural areas, this activity should be accompanied by training and support programmes.
Ratio of potential male and female caregivers by municipality size and for the whole of Spain. Year 2016.
Ratio of potential male and female caregivers by municipality size and for the whole of Spain. Year 2016.


The Potential Caregivers Ratio (PCR) enables measurement of the relationship that exists between the population that can potentially provide care (number of people aged between 45 and 69 years) and the people that probably are going to need some type of care (people aged over 70 years). In rural municipalities with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants there are barely two people who could potentially care for each dependent person. In smaller villages, the presence of women is so scarce that there can be no guarantee of care if people continue to expect female informal caregivers.

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Begoña Elizalde-San Miguel, Public University of Navarra

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