Since the early 1990s, persistently low fertility in Mediterranean countries has attracted the interest of empirical research aimed at identifying factors associated with demographic change in what were traditionally high-fertility contexts. Most of these studies have been carried out at the national scale, while spatial analyses of sub-national patterns remain mostly absent. The present study aims to fill this gap, investigating the spatio-temporal changes in local fertility in Spanish municipalities over a 16-year period that covers consecutive waves of economic expansion (2002–2009) and recession (2010–2017). The analytical framework is grounded on descriptive statistics, spatial statistics (that is, Global Moran’s I and Local Indicators of Spatial Association) and non-parametric inference testing the pair-wise correlations between fertility levels and contextual variables (including population density, topography, accessibility and distance from central locations). Results of this study reveal a fertility decline in most areas of the country—especially in depopulated districts. The highest fertility is observed in Southern Spain, along the Mediterranean coast, and around the main cities. With recession, spatial heterogeneity emerges as the main trend characterizing regional fertility—a finding in line with research from other Mediterranean countries. Local fertility rates were less spatially clustered in the recession than in the expansion period, with a progressive shrinkage of high-fertility districts. A persistent decline in local fertility may be considered an early-warning indicator of depopulation in Spain’s rural districts and can be used to delineate demographically fragile areas.
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