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ECONOMY

What is Italy doing to increase its plummeting birth rate?

As Italy records a historic low birthrate and the president calls for “every possible initiative” to reverse the trend, we look at why it's happening and what's really being done.

What is Italy doing to increase its plummeting birth rate?
Italy has one of the oldest populations in Europe. Photo: AFP

A new record low number of births was registered in Italy in 2019, according to the latest data released this week by national statistics bureau Istat.

There were just 435,000 births registered in Italy last year, the lowest on record, meaning the country’s overall population is ageing more than ever before.

The figures “fully reflected the trends highlighted for some time”, Istat stated.

Italy’s population hit a peak in 2015 at 60.8 million, but has been steadily dropping since and now sits at 60.3 million, the Istat figures showed.

The news that Italy’s birthrate is at at an all-time low was greeted with alarm by the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, who described it as “a problem that regards the existence of our country.”

“This means that the fabric of our country is weakening, and every possible initiative should be taken to combat this phenomenon,” he told reporters. “Families are not Italy’s connective tissue, they are Italy.”

If the long-term trend continues,  Italy’s population is expected to drop by seven million over the next 50 years, according to Istat.

The growing demographic crisis, with births falling and life expectancy rising, is thought to be both a symptom and a cause of Italy’s chronically stagnant economy.

Photo: AFP

While most Italians do want to have at least two children, according to Istat, experts point out that Italy’s high levels of unemployment, the proliferation of badly-paid, short-term work contracts, and a lack of affordable housing and childcare mean many young people put off starting a family as they think it’s unaffordable to do so in Italy, which does not offer any form of comprehensive child benefit

The average age at which women in Italy have their first child is now 31 – the oldest in the EU, Eurostat figures show.

Many other European countries, such as Germany, are seeing similar trends, while the birth rate is more stable in the UK and France.

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Meanwhile, life expectancy in Italy has continued to rise, hitting 85.3 years for women and 81 years for men – one of the highest rates in Europe.

Its median age is now 45 years compared to the EU’s median of 42.8, higher than any other European country except Germany.

Successive Italian governments have promised to implement policies aimed at reversing the trend, but nothing so far seems to have made an impact.

While some previous policy ideas – such as the suggestion of giving away a piece of farmland to families who have a third child – may have fallen flat, Italy’s most recent budget included plans to give more financial help to families.

The government announced in December 2019 that Italy’s “baby bonus”, a monthly payment which has so far been reserved for families with a total annual income below 25,000 euros. would become available to all families in 2020.

The government also announced more funding for childcare per family, depending on income, and that mandatory paternity leave would increase from five to seven days.

More details of the government’s new budget allowances for families can be found here.

One thing already offsetting the declining birth rate in Italy is immigration and a steady rise in births among foreign nationals, Istat found.

While surveys suggest that most Italians believe there are “too many immigrants” in their country, and fear that immigration will negatively affect the economy, legal newcomers from outside the EU already pay enough social security contributions to fund the pensions of 600,000 retired Italians.

The figure could rise exponentially if more migrants were permitted to work legally.

As younger Italians continue to move abroad to find work, immigrants increasingly make up a new tax-paying workforce in Italy, as well as caring for the ageing Italian population.

The majority of professional caregivers in Italy – 80 percent by some estimates – are foreign nationals.

READ ALSO: Immigration to Italy: a look at the numbers

Member comments

  1. Matterella and the other crooks in the Italian government should amend the Elective Residency requirements and make it easier to obtain dual citizenship. The US has the largest population of 2nd and 3rd generation Italians, and many of them would love to immigrate to Italy yet the process to obtain an Elective Residency Visa is mire in a bureaucracy which is a labyrinth of documents, inaccurate information from one consulate to another, and condescending Consulate employees. The country the world loves to visit is run by the most corrupt and incompetent bunch of crooks whose personal greed transcends any obligation to their country and their country’s future. Yes, lets just open the borders to the world so that Italy will only be a country in name, whose culture is no more authentic than Disney worlds fantasy kingdom. Bringing in immigrants who care little for Italian culture, customs or way of life and have no interest in assimilation is not the answer. Reducing bureaucracy, corruption, taxes and once and for all ridding the south of the Mafia takes leadership, which sadly Italy has never had. Mattarella and his ilk are no better than any mafia don as they and their policies have been just as destructive to the future of italy.

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MONEY

EXPLAINED: How to claim Italy’s €200 cost of living bonus

The Italian government is sending one-off €200 payments to cushion the rising cost of living, but they won't be automatic. Here's the latest on how the process works.

EXPLAINED: How to claim Italy's €200 cost of living bonus

The €200 cost of living bonus was announced in May 2022, alongside several government measures aimed at offsetting the increasing cost of living, as The Local reported.

Employees, as well as the self-employed, pensioners and the unemployed, will be eligible to receive the €200 payment if they have an annual income of under €35,000 gross, according to a decree law passed in May.

READ ALSO: Who can claim Italy’s €200 cost of living bonus?

However, the bonus is only automatically made to those who are state employees or pensioners. Those in these categories will be identified by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and INPS and receive €200 along with their salaries or pension payments.

What if I work in the private sector?

Employers working in the private sector should receive their payments in their July pay packet. First, however, they need to submit a self-declaration (autodichiarazione) form to their employer, who will pay the sum with the July pay check and then recover the funds from the state later.

The decree doesn’t specify a deadline for the submission, but as the payments should be made in July, the paperwork needs to be filed before that – so you’ll need to talk to your employer and arrange it.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The rules and deadlines for filing Italian taxes in 2022

The self-declaration serves to establish that the worker has all the requirements to be a beneficiary. That means the person does not go over the income ceiling for the benefit, for example.

You will also have to declare that you will not receive a €200 bonus from other sources, such as from being a recipient of the citizen income or through another employment relationship.

How can other workers apply?

Italy’s government expanded the bonus payment scheme to more people in early May, as The Local reported.

Seasonal workers, domestic and cleaning staff, the self-employed, the unemployed and those on Italy’s ‘citizens’ income’ were added to the categories of people in Italy eligible for a one-off €200 payment.

These other categories of workers will not receive automatic payment, though. Instead, they need to make a special request to INPS to receive the bonus.

There are different deadlines for different people, so ‘domestic workers’ (lavoratori domestici) need to apply by September 30th. Other workers, such as seasonal, for example, have until October 21st.

You can apply for the bonus on the INPS website, which indicates that the payments will be made at an unspecified later date.

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