Enhancing digital diffusion for higher productivity growth in Spain

By Aida Caldera Sánchez, Müge Adalet McGowan and Yosuke Jin

Digitalisation is transforming the Spanish economy, changing the way firms operate, with positive implications for productivity. However, these changes are not evenly shared between high and low productivity firms, or small and large firms (Figure 1), which can help explain why aggregate productivity gains from digitalisation have been modest in Spain so far. Hence, Spain still has considerable scope to reap the benefits of the adoption of digital technologies and, perhaps more importantly, their effective use to produce new business models and products, as discussed in the 2021 Economic Survey of Spain (OECD, 2021; Jin, 2021).

Figure 1. The adoption of digital technologies varies with firm size
Percentage of firms which adopt each technology, 2019

Note: “Small firms” stands for small enterprises with 10-49 employees, while “Large firms” stands for large enterprises with 250 employees and more.
Source: OECD, ICT Access and Usage by Businesses (database).

The pandemic has shown the benefits of a more digitalised economy (e-commerce, teleworking) and accelerated the pace of digital adoption, with the extent of teleworking and digital sales increasing in Spain during the last year.  The Spanish Recovery, Resilience and Transformation Plan allocates 29% of funds to digitalisation, which will help Spain achieve its ambitious objectives laid out in its national digital strategy, “Digital Spain 2025”. In this context of the increasing importance of digitalisation in Spain, the Survey analyses the challenges and opportunities that digitalisation offers through three types of policies.

First, good communications infrastructure is a prerequisite to adopt and use digital technologies. This is an area where Spain ranks relatively well in international perspective, with a high share of fibre in total fixed broadband subscriptions and a relatively widespread internet usage. The coverage of fibre networks in rural areas is also well above that in other European countries (46% vs. 21%). Nonetheless, the digital divide between urban and rural areas in Spain remains, even if it has narrowed recently. Barriers to “rights of way” – permission to install necessary equipment – are high in some regions and municipalities, and should be reduced to lower deployment costs.

Second, there are complementary factors that are key to take full advantage of digitalisation. These include organisational capital and managerial skills, R&D and digital skills. There are important gaps in these areas in Spain. For example, business investment in intangible assets and R&D are relatively low.  To boost innovation and reap the full benefits of digitalisation, the Survey recommends boosting partnerships between the public and the private sector, for example by enhancing the role of Technology Centres to increase cooperation between research institutes and SMEs, which need to innovate and use digital technologies more.

There is also ample room to develop ICT skills, especially for low-educated and older people (Figure 2). Reducing the mismatch between the skills employers need and the qualifications of jobseekers should be a priority. This would help in particular low productivity firms and low-skilled people, making the benefits of digitalisation shared by all. Targeting training to those with lower digital skills and shifting financial incentives for lifelong training at least partially to training programmes chosen by individuals rather than employers would help achieve these outcomes.

Figure 2. There is room to develop digital skills
Percentage of respondents claiming to have basic digital skills, 2019

Source: Eurostat, Digital skills (database).

Finally, policies, which raise competitive pressures and sharpen incentives to better use digital technologies and better access to finance, can also enhance the diffusion of digital technologies. For example, the Survey recommends fostering the implementation of the Markey Unity Law to reduce regulatory differences across regions and facilitate the growth and entry of new firms and this way encourage the adoption of new technologies. It also recommends strengthening targeted support to new and high-potential firms through public guarantee schemes. In addition to these policies, which facilitate the entry and expansion of innovative firms, it is also important to ensure the efficient exit of non-viable firms and restructuring of viable firms in temporary distress. An effective insolvency regime can help reduce the barriers and costs of firm restructuring or exit and facilitates technological experimentation. In this context, promoting out-of-court insolvency proceedings, especially for SMEs, is key.


Jin, Y. (2021), “Enhancing digital diffusion for higher productivity growth in Spain”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 1673, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2021), OECD Economic Surveys: Spain 2021, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/79e92d88-en.

Spain: Fostering the recovery

By Müge Adalet McGowan, OECD Economics Department

Economic policies reacted in a timely manner to the crisis, which hit the Spanish economy hard, with a 10.8% fall in GDP in 2020. Policy support, including short-time work schemes and loan guarantees, changed in line with the evolution of pandemic. With vaccination accelerating and containment measures easing, recovery is on the horizon. However, outlook remains uncertain due to the speed of vaccination, the recovery of tourism, unwinding of the sizeable households savings accumulated during the lockdown and the use of Next Generation EU funds. The latest OECD Economic Survey of Spain highlights that support should be continued until the recovery is firmly underway, but become more targeted to the most impacted sectors and viable firms.

Structural reforms are key to a durable and inclusive recovery

The crisis has exacerbated pre-existing challenges, such as high unemployment and inequalities, with the pandemic hitting disproportionately hard young, low-skilled, and temporary workers. Improving the efficiency of active labour market policies will be an important tool to reskill and enhance the employability of displaced workers. For example, the use of tools for the profiling of specific individual needs can allow interventions at an earlier stage, and tailor services more closely to individuals. Ensuring training opportunities for workers on short-time work schemes is also key to facilitate reallocation. An important challenge of Spanish labour markets is the widespread use of temporary contracts. While temporary employment can help impacted sectors in the near term, labour market duality should be lowered in the medium-term. Simplifying the menu of contracts and streamlining existing hiring incentives should be prioritised.

The Recovery, Resilience and Transformation Plan outlines to use the EU funds to advance the structural transformation of the Spanish economy to a more digitalised, inclusive and sustainable economy. Swift absorption of the funds can support the near-term recovery, but effective implementation and reforms are needed to enhance long-term growth. Given the high level of decentralisation in Spain, coordination across different levels of government will be key, together with a good governance system to strike the right balance between fast absorption and high accountability, by ensuring transparent procedures and criteria for investments.

Once the recovery is firmly under way, medium-term fiscal challenges should be addressed

Significant policy support has increased the public debt to GDP to 120% in 2020. Furthermore, the ageing-related spending pressures present before the pandemic will continue. Adequate and socially acceptable measures should be taken to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the pension system. The Survey recommends linking the retirement age to life expectancy and further increasing the effective retirement age by disincentivising early retirement. New incentives to extend working lives, for example by increasing the number of required contribution periods to gain a full pension, could also be introduced. These reforms should be accompanied by measures to re-skill older workers, such as digital and ICT skills.

Boosting digital diffusion will raise productivity growth and help firms’ recovery from the crisis

The pandemic has shown the benefits of a more digitalised economy (e-commerce, teleworking) and accelerated the pace of digital adoption, which can help boost growth through productivity gains. Spain has one of the best digital infrastructures in the EU, but there is considerable scope to reap the benefits of the adoption of digital technologies and their effective use to produce new business models and products.

There is a mismatch between the skills employers need and the qualifications of jobseekers, which is expected to grow in the future in Spain. There is not only room to improve digital skills, especially those with low-education, but also the digital adoption of technologies by firms, especially SMEs. Only 20% of firms use e-sales and cloud computing services in Spain (Figure 1). Efforts to remove barriers to low productivity firms, improving their access to capital and incentivising them to boost their underlying capabilities, including intangible capital and the skills of workers, would increase firms’ incentives and capabilities to make the most out of new technologies. These issues are covered in the Survey’s in-depth chapter on digitalisation.

Figure 1. The adoption of digital technologies has scope to increase

Percentage of firms which adopt each technology, 2019


Government of Spain (2021), The Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan of the Spanish Economy, Madrid.

OECD (2021), OECD Economic Surveys: Spain 2021, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/79e92d88-en.

Sustaining growth to benefit all in Spain

By David Law, Spain desk, OECD Economics Department

Spain 150xSpain continues to recover from the economic crisis with strong growth and falling unemployment, as highlighted in the latest OECD Economic Survey of Spain (OECD, 2018). If the recovery is to be sustained, it is vital that the benefits of economic growth are shared as high rates of income and wealth inequality can harm economic growth and productivity, and limit productive investment opportunities.

Income inequality is relatively high in Spain (Figure 1) and it increased during the crisis, as employment fell significantly and income disparity grew. The risk of being in poverty now varies greatly across regions and the rate of child poverty is particularly high, at 22% in 2015, which is well above the OECD average of 13%. The risk of poverty is especially high for children living in migrant and single parent families. With some positive developments in the labour market since 2015, income inequality and poverty rates are likely to have improved somewhat, however, these issues are expected to remain a concern for some time.

Inequality spain blog1 2018

Wealth inequality in Spain appears relatively low in international perspective, reflecting high rates of home ownership. However, as is the case in other countries, wealth inequality is higher than income inequality with the top 10% of households holding close to half of all wealth, compared to around one fifth for the bottom 60% of households. Wealth inequality seems likely to rise over time, given changes in the distribution of income and recent labour market trends. Indeed, new work undertaken by the OECD using household survey data shows that wealth inequality already increased between 2011 and 2014 in Spain, and that the income and wealth mobility of households exhibit a degree of persistence, which can exacerbate inequalities (Martinez-Toledano et al., forthcoming).

The tax and transfer system in Spain could do more to tackle inequality. Low-income households receive less cash transfers than higher-income ones, with those in the bottom 20% of the income distribution receiving only around 55% of the average payment across all families, compared to the top 20% receiving over 60% more than the average family (Figure 2). Better targeting of transfers, so more is received by those who need them the most, would reduce inequality. Additionally, the 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Spain notes the burden the tax system places on labour taxation and recommends that regressive reduced value-added tax rates be abolished and that the tax allowances granted for inheritance taxes for the most wealthy are reconsidered.

Inequality spain blog2 2018

Reducing inequality in the long-run will also require sustained improvement in labour market outcomes. For instance, in 2017, unemployment among the young was 38.6%, long term unemployment as a share of the labour force was 7.7% and 27% of workers were on temporary contracts. The 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Spain makes a number of recommendations in this regard. For example, the Survey recommends increasing spending on training and job search assistance, the introduction of a profiling tool to adapt active labour market programmes to the needs of individual workers, and measures to boost the labour market participation of women, such as extending the provision of early childhood education. The Survey also discusses the role that targeted reductions in social security contributions could play in improving labour market outcomes for low wage workers and the benefits of greater use of firm-level collective agreements, and recommends continuing efforts to fight against the abuse of temporary contracts to reduce labour market duality.


OECD (2018), OECD Economic Surveys: Spain 2018, OECD Publishing, Paris. https://doi.org/10.1787/eco_surveys-esp-2018-en.

Martínez-Toledano, C., D. Law, D. Haugh and M. Adalet McGowan (forthcoming), “The Business Cycle and Wealth and Income Mobility in Spain”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, forthcoming.

Reducing regional disparities for inclusive growth

By Müge Adalet McGowan, Spain desk, OECD Economics Department

Spain 150xEnsuring the benefits of growth are spread widely requires a strong focus on greater convergence of regions in terms of income and well-being. The GDP per capita in the best performing region was around double that in the worst performing region in 2016. Income inequality and poverty rates are also high, with regional differences.

High regional dispersion in education and job outcomes, compounded by low inter-regional mobility, emerge as key drivers of regional inequalities in income and well-being (Figure 1). At the same time, productivity growth has stagnated in Spain (Figure 2). Barriers to achieving a truly single market limit productivity growth of regions, including the most advanced. Hence, the 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Spain highlights that a dual approach of enhancing both the productive and employment capacities of lagging regions is needed (OECD, 2018). Reducing regional disparities will also depend on effective coordination and sharing of best practices across regions.

Spain 2018 fig 1 main

Stronger coordination between employment and social services is key to providing effective transitions between social support schemes and employment, given the multiple barriers that the unemployed might face (Fernandez et al., 2018). Improving coordination to provide integrated support for jobseekers via a single point of contact for social and employment services and assistance would improve the effectiveness of such policies.

Lack of full portability of social and housing rights across regions, due to prior residency requirements, contributes to low labour mobility. The 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Spain recommends ensuring full portability of these benefits across regions, by providing temporary assistance either by the region of origin or the central government.

Increasing the quality of education would improve the employability of the labour force in lagging regions and should be complemented with policies to raise job quality in regions with low-skilled jobs. For example, providing individualised support to students at the risk of failing at an early stage has contributed to lower early school leaving rates in some regions. Increasing the adaptability of workers, via lifelong learning policies better targeting the participation of low-qualified adults, would improve the matching of skills to labour market needs.

Reducing regional regulatory differences is key to achieving a truly single market and firm growth. The 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Spain recommends strengthening the implementation of Market Unity Law through enhanced cooperation and coordination across different levels of government and the assessment of the compliance of new legislation at all levels of government with the principles of the Market Unity Law. Removing the remaining barriers in some professional services would also improve competition and boost productivity.


OECD (2018), OECD Economic Surveys: Spain 2018, OECD Publishing, Paris. https://doi.org/10.1787/eco_surveys-esp-2018-en.

Fernandez, R., et al. (2018), “Faces of Joblessness in Spain: A People-centred perspective on employment barriers and policies”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 207, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/6149118d-en.

Reducing poverty durably is a key challenge in Spain

By Yosuke Jin, Spain Desk, Country Studies Branch, OECD Economics Department

Poverty has risen in Spain in the wake of the crisis (Figure 1), mainly due to lack of quality jobs that provide enough hours of paid work to support decent incomes (OECD, 2017). The risk of poverty is concentrated on jobless households and households with only temporary workers (OECD, 2015). As employment has grown strongly over the past three years, poverty is likely to have declined. However, the level of poverty is also likely to remain high as the unemployment rate still stands at around 19% and a quarter of those who are employed are on temporary jobs. The risk of poverty is particularly intensified among jobless households with children.

pov incr during crisis esp

The tax and transfer system could do more to relieve poverty. Total social spending as a percentage of GDP is higher in Spain than the OECD average. However, social benefits are poorly targeted with relatively well-off households benefiting more than the poor. Cash transfers are particularly low at the bottom 20% of the income distribution (Figure 2), as less than half of the unemployed are covered by unemployment benefits and minimum-income safety nets are weak (OECD, 2017).

esp 2 transfers for poor

A substantial number of unemployed people have exhausted their unemployment benefits as their unemployment spell gets longer or are not entitled to them at all. This is particularly the case for those who separate from temporary contracts due to very short contribution periods in the social security system. The 2017 OECD Economic Survey on Spain recommends extending the coverage of the standard unemployment benefit by reducing its minimum required contribution period, in line with many other EU countries (OECD, 2017).

The minimum income support provided by safety nets is weak and its coverage is very limited. Social protection in Spain consists not only of the unemployment insurance system managed by the central government, but also of minimum income support schemes run by the central and regional authorities. Only 1.5% of households received minimum income support in 2014 from the regional schemes. The Renta Minima de Insercion (RMI) is the most common income support scheme for those who are not eligible for unemployment benefits, aimed at alleviating poverty by means of cash benefits for basic living needs. For those who do receive the RMI, the benefit amount is low compared with similar social assistance in other OECD countries, in particular for those with children due to weak top-ups for children. The Economic Survey recommends increasing the amount and coverage of the regional minimum income support programmes, in particular, for families with children (OECD, 2017).

While improving the coverage of social protection, the benefits should be strictly conditional on active job search. This would not only provide immediate income support but also allow benefit recipients to stay connected to the labour market, as long as relevant employment support measures are put in place. From this perspective, the Economic Survey also discusses the importance of improving the efficiency of public employment services by: employing profiling tools and specialisation of counsellors; increasing resources and staff-to-job seeker ratios; and improving co-ordination to provide integrated support for jobseekers via a single point of contact for social and employment services and assistance (OECD, 2017).


OECD (2015), In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2017), OECD Economic Surveys: Spain 2017, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Fiscal policy in the euro area: in the current juncture, don’t apply sanctions


By Alvaro Pina, Head of European Union and Euro Area Desk, Country Studies Branch, OECD Economics Department

Tomorrow the European Commission will assess again the fiscal situation of Portugal and Spain, and decide whether to recommend to the Council that the Excessive Deficit Procedure be stepped up for those countries, exposing them to various sanctions. This momentous decision can have major consequences for the countries concerned, but also wider implications. It sets a landmark in the application of the Stability and Growth Pact rules, and therefore begs the question of how best those rules should be applied, especially in the current juncture of weak growth in Europe. In turn, this question hinges on what fiscal policies should do to support the recovery more. The recent OECD Survey of the Euro Area provides analysis on what should be done.

Growth has picked up gradually over the past two years, but demand is still weak and unemployment remains very high in several countries, including Portugal and Spain. In the euro area as a whole, support to the recovery has essentially come from monetary policy, with little or no fiscal help. After three years (2011-13) of strong and widespread fiscal consolidation, fiscal policy has turned broadly neutral (Figure 1), but it needs to go further in supporting demand as monetary policy alone cannot do everything. Budget support should mainly come from countries with fiscal space. Those without, like Portugal and Spain, should nonetheless avoid a return to austerity.

Desney1 euro are fisc stance

To maximise growth impacts and make them lasting, budget support should be targeted. Post-crisis consolidation often led to increases in labour taxes and large reductions in public investment (Figure 2), making public finances less growth-friendly. Policy levers to improve the composition and efficiency of public spending and taxes remain largely at national level, and progress on this front across the euro area has been insufficient. But European sanctions could make matters worse. For instance, they would likely imply a suspension (even if only temporary) of structural funds to the countries concerned, putting further downward pressure on public investment.

Desney2 change in public investmen

In the current juncture, sanctions would be an economic mistake. In the absence of temporary fiscal expansion by countries with enough space, sanctions will somewhat tilt the euro area fiscal stance towards austerity, the opposite of what is needed. Further, they risk inducing further cuts to investment, thus hampering potential growth. Not to mention rekindling political tensions and animosities, again the opposite of what is needed. In a word: don’t.

See also:

OECD (2016), OECD Economic Surveys: Euro Area 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris.