Alvise Armellini, Agence France-Presse, May 14, 2021
When Daniela Vicino started work as a teacher in Sicily three decades ago, she had up to 30 children in her classes. With the birth rate tumbling, that number has almost halved.
There are now “18-20 at best, and even 15-16 in some cases,” she told AFP in the southeastern town of Caltagirone. “It is a very painful thing.”
Italy has long suffered one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, but the situation has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic — saddling the country with problems that go well beyond empty cribs.
Last year, the Italian population shrank by almost 400,000 — roughly the size of the city of Florence — to 59.3 million as deaths peaked, births bottomed out and immigration slowed down.
At a conference on the decline of the birth rate Friday also attended by Pope Francis, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the average age of Italians was 47, “the highest in Europe”.
“An Italy without children is an Italy that has no place for the future, it is an Italy which slowly ceases to exist,” he said.
Experts warn that fewer children today mean fewer tax-paying workers tomorrow, making any country less productive and less capable of providing for its ageing population.
This has long been a concern for Western societies, but the threat looms larger in Italy, already the most sluggish economy within the G7 club of industrialised nations.
Draghi has promised more nurseries, support for working women and mortgage help for young couples as part of Italy’s 221-billion-euro ($269 billion), EU-funded pandemic recovery plan.
Italy’s social security system is currently skewed towards the elderly, with health and pensions taking a lion’s share of the budget.
In 2012, Italy saw births fall to the lowest level since it became a nation state in 1861, to around 534,000. Since then, new record lows have been established every year.
In 2020, as coronavirus swept the country, the figure fell to 404,000.
For 2021, Istat expects a further drop to 384,000-393,000 — largely due to an expected post-Covid baby bust across the world.
In December and January — nine months after Covid-19 took hold in Italy — new births fell, year-on-year, by around 10 and 14 percent respectively.