As any visitor to Italy with small children will tell you, Italians adore children. But they have stopped making babies of their own. Italy has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe, with women bearing on average just 1.48 babies each, according to the United Nations Population Division. At the same time, Italians are living longer, meaning Italy’s population is aging and, in the long run, shrinking.
The country has now been added to PROJECT M’s interactive graph Demographic Insights, providing an overview of fertility rates as well as a multitude of other demographic and economic data.
A visit to Gorreto village, Liguria says it all: this quaint, northern village of 118 inhabitants is facing extinction. The local primary school shut 30 years ago, and six schools in the surrounding area have followed suit. There are no children left to teach.
According to Angelo Bagnasco, cardinal archbishop of Genoa, Italy is being “seriously mutilated” by its low birthrate. If it weren’t for massive immigration in the last two decades, with large numbers of Romanians flocking to Italy, the situation would be even more dramatic.
Modern Italian women are starting to reject traditional, childbearing roles
CAREER NOT CHILDREN
But why has this predominantly Roman Catholic country, which loves children stopped having them? Firstly, modern Italian women are starting to reject their traditional, childbearing roles. Career comes first; marriage and babies can wait. Some then leave it too late to have children at all: about 24% of women in Italy born in are childless compared with 10% of their French peers.
Unlike some of their European counterparts, Italian women also find it tough to combine a career with having children. As a result, Italy has a low female employment rate of 47% compared with an OECD average of 60%. National family benefits and child-care options also trail behind most European countries. Italy’s spend of 1.4% of GDP on families with children falls well short of the OECD average of 2.2%. And while parents can take maternity leave of up to 11 months, only five months of this is at full pay.
Crucially, child-care provision is poor: there are few nurseries and less than one third of children under age three attend formal child-care. Moreover, work contracts are for life, meaning that part-time jobs are scarce, flexi-time is rare and opportunities for women to work during school hours are limited.
Sadly, when it comes to work, the Italian system favors the single, male breadwinner and women struggle to attain positions of power in the workplace.
In general, Italy remains a country where women tend to be prized more for their looks than their intelligence. Traditional gender attitudes prevail, meaning women struggle to cope with the double burden of work and having one child, making them more reluctant to have a second one.
Money, as ever, also plays a role. Many young families simply can’t afford to have children. Nicknamed bamboccioni (big babies), about a third of Italian adults still live with their parents, a report by social and market research firms Coldiretti and Censis found – a small comfort for the parents who had once dreamt of welcoming grandchildren into their lives.