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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.

READ ALSO: 

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

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.”

READ ALSO:

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.

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