Academic journal article Demographic Research

Italy: Delayed Adaptation of Social Institutions to Changes in Family Behaviour

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Italy: Delayed Adaptation of Social Institutions to Changes in Family Behaviour

Article excerpt


Considering its very low fertility and high age at childbearing, Italy stands alone in the European context and can hardly be compared with other countries, even those in the Southern region. The fertility decline occurred without any radical change in family formation. Individuals still choose (religious) marriage for leaving their parental home and rates of marital dissolution and subsequent step-family formation are low. Marriage is being postponed and fewer people marry. The behaviours of young people are particularly alarming. There is a delay in all life cycle stages: end of education, entry into the labour market, exit from the parental family, entry into union, and managing an independent household. Changes in family formation and childbearing are constrained and slowed down by a substantial delay (or even failure) with which the institutional and cultural framework has adapted to changes in economic and social conditions, in particular to the growth of the service sector, the increase in female employment and the female level of education. In a Catholic country that has been led for almost half a century by a political party with a Catholic ideology, the paucity of attention to childhood and youth seems incomprehensible. Social policies focus on marriage-based families already formed and on the phases of life related to pregnancy, delivery, and the first months of a newborn's life, while forming a family and childbearing choices are considered private affairs and neglected.

1. Introduction

The Italian demographic panorama is dominated by very low fertility, very high levels of life expectation, a negative sign of natural increase, and a positive balance between immigrants and emigrants, with persistent regional variability (Table 1). These features contribute to transforming the traditional image of Italian society, characterised by large families, a high attachment to childbearing, with a long experience of emigration toward richer and more industrialized countries.

Indeed, 'zero population growth' considered desirable by many political parties after the Second World War is now a reality. Only thanks to a positive migration balance Italy's population is not yet decreasing. If we compare the total population of 1990 with that of 1 January 2005 (Table 2), we conclude that not much has changed. However, the composition of the population has changed entirely in terms of age and sex, and the proportion of the aged population has recently exceeded that of young people. Projections for the near future forecast a decline in the Italian population: Even though a recovery in fertility is hypothesized, a population decrease will be observed as well as an increase in aging (Figure 1).

These prospects are valid, despite the expectation of a net annual addition of 120,000 migrants. The phenomenon of immigration to Italy, though relatively recent, has now become crucial for the future of the population. According to official data4 (Caritas /Migrantes 2006), 3,035,144 foreigners lived in Italy on 31 December 2005, constituting an increase of 9% compared to the previous year, and a 126% increase compared to 2000. The foreign population represents 5.2% of the total population, but the whole impact of migrants on Italian demography is difficult to assess, mainly because the life span spent in our country by most foreigners has been relatively brief.

No more than 50,000 foreigners have lived in Italy for more than 10 years. Nevertheless, we will speculate on the impact of migration on the population structure, which is rejuvenated by foreigners who are relatively young (Figure 2), and its impact on the number of births. Figure 3 shows a strong increase in the share of births due to foreign (resident) population on the total number of births (8.7% in 2004). However, the impact on the Italian fertility level appears insignificant: In 2004, the PTFR - calculated on the total resident population - was 1. …

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