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Why Italy’s love affair with babies is waning

By Nina Steele 

Childfree Italians Italy is currently experiencing a birth rate crisis, with more and more young people choosing not to have children. One report suggests that: “Italy’s birth rate has more than halved since the ‘baby boom’ of the 1960s, with the number of births falling to 488,000 in 2015 – fewer than in any other years since the modern state was formed in 1861”. Youth unemployment, which currently stands at around 37%, is one of the main factors behind this trend. The lack of employment is also forcing young Italians to live with their parents, with some reports suggesting that: “nearly 7.4 million, or 66 per cent, of 18- to 34-year-olds are now living at home compared with around 60 per cent before the financial crisis in 2008”.

We were in Italy this summer and met someone who is part of that new generation. He was our host and even though he wasn’t unemployed and runs his own small business, he didn’t feel financially secure enough to start a family. I remember asking him if he saw himself having children at some stage in the future, and his answer was an emphatic no. He was enjoying his life as a childfree man and intended for things to remain the same.

It is fair to say that even though the traditional Italian love affair with babies is waning, Italian culture still loves children. That love affair can be seen pretty much everywhere you go, particularly in places such as restaurants. Whereas here in the UK, people would generally prefer to have quiet meals in restaurants without having to put up with children making noises, in Italy, families with children are welcomed with open arm. During our stay, my husband and I could not fail to notice how waiters always beamed at the sight of little children.

The richer the country, the less children people tend to have. Add to that economic hardship and birth rates inevitably plummet, which is what we are currently witnessing in Italy. This inevitably leads to the question of how best to make up for the fact that the indigenous population is having fewer children. Once upon a time, immigration would have been the obvious answer. However, with immigration currently one of the most divisive subjects in Europe, policy makers have very few options at their disposal, other than to hope that an improvement in the economy will bring about a reversal in trend. Only time will tell what happens next.

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