The real reasons young Italians aren’t having kids

An Italian campaign to raise awareness over fertility issues has provoked outcry, with protestors accusing the government of doing nothing to tackle the real reasons behind Italy's slowing birthrate.

The real reasons young Italians aren't having kids
Why have Italians seemingly stopped making babies? File photo: Pexels

Italy has the lowest birthrate in the European Union and one of the lowest in the world, with only eight babies born for every 1,000 residents in 2015, according to EU figures released in July.

A total of 485,000 babies were born in the country last year, a record low and less than half the level of the 1960s. Mums are also getting older; the number of women over 40 giving birth doubled between 2002 and 2012, according to Eurostat, and the average age at which mothers have their first child is 31 years and seven months.

Yet a campaign from Italy's Health Ministry to make couples aware of issues surrounding fertility – and to encourage them to have babies sooner – has been widely criticized.

Its first series of promotional material was scrapped after an outcry over ageism, with criticism levelled at a poster with the message 'Beauty has no age. But fertility does', and the second iteration was labelled as racist after a poster used a group of white friends to illustrate 'good habits' and people of different ethnicities to represent 'bad habits'.

Though Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin quickly announced the ministry's Director of Communications had been fired, it wasn't just the posters being questioned, but the entire reasoning behind the campaign.

Lorenzin had organized Fertility Day to host talks, debates and health screenings promoting awareness of infertility, but in cities across the country, counter-protests with the slogan 'Fertility Fake' were organized.

Demonstrators held signs reading 'siamo in attesa', a play on the Italian term which means 'we're expecting' but also translates as 'we're waiting'.

A Facebook group which organized the protests, which 1,400 people marked an interest in, said: “The government wants us to have children – and fast. Lots of us don't want to, and in fact, we are waiting. For creches, welfare, salaries, benefits.”

The thing is, many Italian women do plan to have children. The average Italian woman wants to have 2.3 'more' children (whether they already have any or not), data from national statistics agency Istat in 2012 showed, while three quarters of women with one children said they planned to have at least one more.

So why don't they?

To start with, while overall in Italy the unemployment figures have declined in recent years, youth unemployment is still high, with many young Italians forced to live at home into their late 20's and beyond.

A lack of money and a house is off-putting for many would-be parents, and there is no 'child benefit' scheme equivalent to that in the UK and numerous other European countries.

Working women face the added fear of losing their job if they have a child. Among Italian women who are employed when they become pregnant, one in four loses her job within a year of giving birth, according to data from national statistics agency Istat – a risk which increases with each subsequent child.

And a worrying 42.8 percent of those who had continued to work admitted to struggling to reconcile their work and family life.

In 2014, the IMF said Italy had done the least of any European country to encourage women to work, with only around half of women in the workforce and even fewer in the south.

Aside from financial concerns, a lack of childcare options is another key issue in a country which has traditionally relied on close links within the family and community to look after children. One in two Italian families regularly use grandparents as a babysitting resource, with 20 percent providing daily or almost daily care.

But those for whom this is not an option are left with limited choices.

State-run and state-subsidized pre-schools are available in Italy, but are often very over-subscribed, particularly in cities, leaving women to pay for expensive private care.

While private childcare is a preferred option for some, half of Italian women who didn't send their children to daycare said the reason was that they couldn't afford the cost, while almost 12 percent said they couldn't find a place for their child, Istat data reveals.

One mother took to Twitter on Thursday to say that childcare for her two children over six years had cost her €56,000, while many other women said caring for their children without family support would have been impossible.

One said that without the help of grandparents, she and her children would be living “under a bridge”.

Most of the messages on banners at Thursday's protests repeated these concerns, saying they were waiting for Italy to guarantee better salaries, stable work, affordable childcare and gender equality.

Others took their frustrations to social media, using the slogans '#siamoinattesa' and '#vorreimanonparto (roughly: I'd like to, but I can't have children).

Some people were even less optimistic, saying that they were waiting for a “miracle” or “a better country”.

No job. No money. Simple.

Women still earn less than men, and female employees lose their jobs when they become mums.

Because it takes a moment to go from 'woman in society' to 'burden' on society.

I have two children despite endometriosis. Without grandparents, in six years, nannies, creches, after-school and summer centres have cost €56,000.

A job and greater stability. Children aren't a game.

Work, support, benefits; too much is lacking, you can't pretend to be 'fertile' if you live in arid terrain.

We are waiting for salaries, nurseries, university tuition and the chance to be able to choose our own lives.



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How much does it cost to raise a child in Italy?

How big is the financial commitment parents have to make in Italy to pay for their offspring’s needs and expenses until they’re grown up and independent? Here's a look at the predicted costs.

How much does it cost to raise a child in Italy?

Family is the bedrock of Italian society, but it’s also an unbalanced economic crutch, propping up children who leave home much later than most of their European counterparts.

Various factors are at play, from a declining birth rate, youth unemployment, being unable to get on the property ladder to young Italians moving abroad in search of better financial opportunities.

It probably comes as little shock, then, that parents in Italy end up forking out huge sums of cash to support their offspring through childhood and early adulthood (and beyond).

Even just up to the age of 18, raising a child in Italy can cost upwards of €320,000, according to data from Italian consumer research body ONF (Osservatorio Nazionale Federconsumatori).

The average spend of raising a child from 0-18 years is €175,642, but it rises in families with high incomes, classed as over €70,000 per year.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

Researchers noted that the cost of bringing up children has jumped up following the effects of the pandemic too: compared to 2018, child-rearing expenses increased by 1.2 percent by 2020.

The decrease in expenditure related to transport due to spending more time at home, as well as those incurred for sports and leisure activities, was not enough to mitigate the increase in costs for housing and utilities, which increased by 12 percent compared to 2018.

Photo by Suzanne Emily O’Connor on Unsplash

Food prices rose by 8 percent compared to 2018 and education and care jumped by 6 percent for the same timeframe.

In fact, Italy ranks as the third most expensive country in the world for raising children, only coming behind South Korea and China, according to data from investment bank JEF.

The pandemic has contributed to extending an already growing phenomenon: the decrease in annual income of Italian households.

Household income dropped by 2.8 percent from 2019 to 2020, the report found, citing data from national statistics agency Istat. It marks a further squeeze for families, especially low-income and single-parent families.

Depending on earnings, the amount needed to bring up a child until the age of 18 varies considerably.

READ ALSO: ‘Kids are adored here’: What being a parent in Italy is really like

A two-parent family with an annual income of €22,500 spends an average of €118,234.15 to bring up a child until the age of 18; for the same type of family but with an average income of €34,000 per year, the total expenditure to bring up a child increases to €175,642.72.

For high-income families, stated as over €70,000 annually, raising a child costs €321,617.36 on average.

The figures mark an increase of around €5,000 for low- and middle-income families, and a much sharper rise of €50,000 for high-income families, compared to ten years ago.

The money gets spent on housing, food, clothing, health, education and ‘other’ categories. The report revealed that the average spend on a child aged 16 years old is almost €11,500 annually, amounting to €955.78 per month.

Almost €2,000 per year gets spent on food, €1,615 goes on transport and communication, €782 goes on clothing and €1,600 goes on education annually, the report found.

They begin small, yet the costs are anything but. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

For the ONF, “these data highlight how, today more than ever, having a child is becoming a luxury reserved for the few, which fewer and fewer Italians are able to afford.”


The numbers on supporting children after their 18th birthday are a little hazier, as when children eventually fly the nest varies – but figures from Eurostat show that Italy ranks third in Europe for the average oldest age at which children move out of the parental home, at 30.2 years old.

Only young people from Croatia and Slovakia wait longer to live independently, while the EU average for flying the nest is 26.4 years old.

Even then after eventually leaving home at over 30 years old, it’s not entirely clear how many Italians are fully independent once they get their own address, or whether their parents continue to bankroll their living costs.

Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella sent a message to Italy’s Birth Foundation (Fondazione per la Natalità) in May stating, “The demographic structure of the country suffers from serious imbalances that significantly affect the development of our society.”

In response to worsening economic circumstances, the Italian government has recently pledged to do more to help people have families and reverse Italy’s continuing declining birth rate.

It has introduced the Single Universal Allowance (L’assegno unico e universale), but along with it has dropped various so-called ‘baby bonuses’ that provided lump sums to new parents.

The new allowance is a monthly means-tested benefit for those who have children, or are about to have a child. It is payable from the seventh month of pregnancy until the child reaches the age of 18 or in some cases, 21. For more information on what it is and how to claim it, see here.