How Spain's older generation are becoming the new high achievers

Carlos San Juan, 78, a Spanish retiree poses outside a bank in Madrid, Spain Tuesday Feb. 8, 2022.
Carlos San Juan, 78, a Spanish retiree poses outside a bank in Madrid, Spain Tuesday Feb. 8, 2022. Copyright AP Photo/Paul White
By Graham Keeley
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Spain has the sixth highest life expectancy in the world, after Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Switzerland and Singapore, according to figures from the World Population Review published this year.


Luís Martín left school at 14 to find work as his family struggled through the desperate years after the Spanish civil war.

A lifetime later, he returned to the classroom at the age of 87 to pass the bachillerato or Spanish Baccalaureate, an examination that most children complete when they are 18.

His achievement was matched by Carlos San Juan who took on the might of the powerful banking lobby.

At the age of 79, he started a successful campaign to force lenders to make banking more accessible to a generation which digitalisation passed by.

Both are part of the growing silver generation in Spain who are not content to reach for their slippers but are an increasingly active part of this ageing society.

Demographic experts say that as the population ages, more elderly people are retiring who are computer and social media savvy.

Spain has the sixth highest life expectancy in the world, after Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Switzerland and Singapore, according to figures from the World Population Review published this year.

Spaniards live on average to 83.6, with women reaching 86 and men living to 80.9.

More than 20% of the 47 million population is now aged over 65, according to new figures from the Spanish National Statistics Institute published on Wednesday.

Once a country of large families, this is a trend which has been on the rise since 1975 when families started to have fewer children as increasingly, women went to work.

Not letting age get in the way

Martín passed his bachillerato after deciding to start studying to help him regain his memory. It worked spectacularly.

Luis Martin passed his bachilerato at 87Euronews

“I was losing my memory and the doctors said I should try studying as it would help me remember things. I always wanted to study but could not because times were very hard when I was young after the civil war,” he told Euronews.

Martin studied at the Basque Distant Learning Institute in Bilbao in northern Spain where his teachers described the former boat maker as a model student.

“I am pretty pleased with what I have achieved but at the moment I am not thinking about university,” he said.

Carlos San Juan, meanwhile, has not let his age get in the way of taking on the country's biggest banks.

The straw that broke the camel's back was when bank staff flatly refused to come out and help him at a cashpoint because he did not have an appointment.

The 79-year-old retired urologist had struggled with the ATM and bank apps for a while but it seemed like his own bank was not interested in helping.

Not content to give up, he started a campaign called 'I'm elderly, not an idiot', which struck a chord.


At first it was family and friends who supported his cause near his home in Valencia but then by February, 650,000 people had signed his petition.

Within a month, Spain's three main banking associations signed a protocol promising more help for elderly people to deal with digitalisation.

Bank branches “will expand their counter service opening hours” and “older people will be prioritised”, said the agreement signed by the Spanish Banking Association (AEB), one of the signatories.

ATMs, banking apps and web pages will be adapted with a simplified interface and language, the AEB said.

AP Photo/Paul White
Carlos San Juan, a Spanish retiree, poses on arrival to the Economy Ministry with a box containing signatures in Madrid, Spain, February 2022.AP Photo/Paul White

“Perhaps it was luck but people signed the petition and the government responded. Then all the banks have voluntarily agreed to help people,” San Juan told Euronews.


“What is important now is the government changes to make this obligatory with a new law,” he said, not content to give up the campaign.

“There are many people who cannot deal with the internet and they are going to be treated properly. When we get older we forget things.”

New generation of tech-friendly pensioners

San Juan believes that the achievements of older people are a sign of how Spanish society is changing.

“We have to think that Spain is one of the countries with the highest expectations in the world so in the future we are going to change (as a society). Digitalisation is very important but many people cannot learn this from one day to the next,” he said.


Diego Ramiro, the director of the Institute of Economy, Geography and Demography for the Spanish National Research Council, a government body, said an emerging generation of retirees will be digitally-savvy.

“One of the things that the Spanish society has gone through is a radical change in educational composition so that there is a divide between those who are skilled in using computers and infographics and those who are not,” he told Euronews.

“Those people (who can use computers) are starting to retire now. They are using the internet to communicate with their families by WhatsApp and email but they are not using things that require ID very much.”

Ramiro said Spain's government and banks were targeting this new tech-friendly generation of pensioners.

“The Spanish administration and banks are moving to a more ID or digital communication with the citizens, the generation which is retiring now who learnt the skills to use these systems."


A report from the Spanish National Institute for Statistics said that the percentage of people who used the internet among those aged 65-74 in Spain and Portugal was 73.3% in 2021 compared to 5.1% in 2006.

But while Luís Martín benefited from attending a distance learning college, these educational establishments are still a rarity in Spain.

“In the UK and other central European countries there was a network of Universities of the Third Age but they are not that common in Spain which will influence how the growing elderly adapt to the digital age. In Spain, you don't have that kind of resources for elderly people,” said Ramiro.

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