Italy's birth rate drops again - except in one province

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Italy's birth rate drops again - except in one province
Births are declining in Italy, but they're on the increase in one province. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

Italy's birth rate reached another new low in 2019, according to new figures. But in the northern province of Bolzano, the birth rate is instead increasing.


Italy's population shrank again in 2019, the latest official data from Italian statistics bureau Istat shows, with the number of babies being born at a new record low, and a growing number of Italians leaving the country.

Every italian region recorded more deaths than births, with the exception of the autonomous province of Bolzano.

Bolzano instead has a considerably higher average rate of children per couple than the rest of Italy – 1.67 compared to 1.3  – a figure that's higher even than the EU average of 1.6. 

READ ALSO: The real reason young Italians aren't having kids

The total population fell by 189,000 to 60.25 million, the fifth straight year of decline, meaning that since 2014 Italy has lost some 551,000 residents - roughly the equivalent of its sixth-largest city, Genoa.

So why is every part of Italy seeing a decline, while the opposite is true in Bolzano? Is there something in the water in that part of the country?

A more likely explanation is the fact that the province has in recent years been offering relatively generous child benefits to residents and implementing other family-friendly measures.

Until this year, Italy lacked a comprehensive child benefit policy. 

In June, the government signed off on the so-called "Family Act", a package of measures aimed at supporting families and reversing the falling birth rate.

It includes contributions towards childcare, ten days' mandatory paternity leave, and a "universal" monthly allowance for families, to be paid from the seventh month of pregnancy until a child reaches 18 years of age. The payments are means tested up to a maximum of €240 a month.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Italy's new "Family Act"


However, Bolzano has been offering around double this amount to new parents for the past few years.

Bolzano also has more childcare places available than in other parts of the country.

While most Italians do want to have at least two children, according to Istat, experts say 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.

Womens' labour market inclusion is another issue, with many women saying it's difficult, if not impossible, to return to work after having childrne.

Only 53 percent of women aged 20 to 64 work in Italy overall. In Bolzano, the figure is around 73 percent.

Employers in Bolzano offer far more flexible working hours and arrangements to working mothers. 


Some of the measures in the Family Act could take up to two years to come into force, ministers said when the details were announced in June.
However, this may not be enough to reverse the trend just yet, with Italy facing a record recession and up to half a million jobs being lost to the coronavirus crisis.
Italy's population is also shrinking because italians are leaving the country at a growing rate - particularly young adults in search of work and opportunities.
The number of Italians moving abroad rose by 8.1 percent year-on-year, in 2019, while immigrant arrivals declined by 8.6 percent, Istat found.
Without the arrival of foreign citizens, Italy's demographic decline over the past six years would have been significantly steeper, Istat said.
The highest growth in the foreign population was also recorded in the province of Bolzano (13.3 per 1,000) while the lowest was on the island of Sardinia (5.1 per 1,000).
Foreigners accounted for 8.8 percent of the resident population of Italy at the end of last year.

The highest growth in the foreign population was also recorded in the province of Bolzano (13.3 per 1,000) while the lowest was on the island of Sardinia (5.1 per 1,000). 




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