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Italy called on to arrest alarming birthrate drop

China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-04 07:21

Country's average age second highest in world behind Japan

ROME - Italy's birthrate - already among the lowest in the world - continues to drop, sparking calls for the government to do more to reverse the trend.

The average Italian couple now has 1.34 children, according to latest statistics, far below the 1.95-children-per couple rate for foreign couples living in Italy. Both figures are below the 2.1-child-per-couple rate needed to maintain a population over the long term.

In 1960, Italy's birthrate was a healthy 2.4 children per couple.

"The risk is not just that with a low birthrate the population will fall, but it's also that the average age will rise," said Maria Silvana Salvini, a demographics professor at the University of Florence. "That has implications for the effectiveness of the workforce, for pensions, healthcare, and so on."

Now the average age in Italy is 45.5 years, according to figures from Italy's National Statistics Institute. That is the highest figure in Europe and the second highest in the world, trailing only Japan.

There have been more deaths than births in Italy for the last generation, but the gap between the two figures has been rising dramatically in recent years. There were 19,000 more deaths than births in Italy 15 years ago, rising to 25,000 in 2010 and to a gap of more than 140,000 last year. The 473,000 births in Italy in 2016 were the lowest level in modern times.

The government has taken some steps to confront the problem, most notably a "fertility day" campaign last year which was abandoned after sparking widespread criticism.

Antonio Mussino, a professor of statistical science at Rome's La Sapienza University, said Italy should focus on economic incentives like those in France, where families that have three or more children receive an array of financial backing from the government.

Salvini, meanwhile, said Italy should put in place more generous maternity leave packages for working mothers.

"It is a bit ironic that Italy is a country that seems to value family above all else, but it does very little to actually support families," Mussino said in an interview.

Other observers called for programs to make it easier for young people to find work. As it is, nearly two out of five Italians under the age of 35 are unemployed, creating strong incentives for them to move to other countries to seek work and further raising the country's median age.

Mussino said the problem has been brewing in Italy for decades. "People seem to have become aware of the problem of low birthrates in recent years, but I wrote a book that discussed this back in 1981," Mussino said.

"It has taken many years for the problem in Italy to become so serious, which means it is not a problem we can solve in a few years. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't start."


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