Italy registered 473,438 births in 2016, continuing a downward trend that has seen births drop by over 100,000 since 2008, according to Istat’s latest fertility report.
The decline is particularly steep among couples where both partners are Italian. Among this demographic, Istat said, births have fallen by 107,000 over the same period.
Yet even couples in which one or both partners are foreign are now having fewer children, Istat’s figures show. Between 2012 and 2016 births to couples with at least one foreign parent fell by 7,000, most notably among couples in which neither partner is Italian.
Istat pointed to Italy’s ageing population and changing lifestyles as factors. There are fewer women of childbearing age in Italy, they are having children later and more of them are not only having fewer children, but remaining childless altogether.
The percentage of women in Italy without any children has risen steadily over the past 50 years, from 11.1 percent among the generation born in the 1950s, to 13 percent in the 1960 generation, to a predicted 21.8 percent among women born around 1976 by the time they are past childbearing.
Italy’s fertility rate, one of the lowest in the European Union, has declined every year since 2010, when the average number of children per woman was 1.46. By 2016 that had fallen to 1.34.
Economic factors are thought to play a large role: youth unemployment is high, with many young people obliged to live with their parents into their late 20s and beyond, while working women face the fear of losing their job if they get pregnant – or shelling out for expensive childcare once the baby arrives.
The government has made some efforts on these issues. It recently extended its “baby bonus” – an €80 per month stipend paid to families with newborns for the first three years of their life – until at least the end of 2018, while lawmakers are also considering introducing a “grandparent bonus” in the form of tax breaks to people who help financially support their grandchildren.
Yet campaigners say that more far-reaching solutions are needed to support women who want to have children, such as giving them more flexibility to work and better child care options.