By Enza Ferreri
Never So Few Babies since the Unification of Italy
The nation which is home to Romeo and Juliet is a dying country, with fewer and fewer new babies being born.
Italy is one of world’s oldest countries, but not only in the historic sense of being of ancient civilization. It is the country with the 2nd oldest population in the world, with just under one in four, precisely 22.8 percent, of Italians aged 65 or over.
Italy has been for a long time and remains one of the countries with the lowest birth rate in the world. The prolonged decrease in births started in the mid-seventies.
In 2020 the number of new babies reached an all-time low, a historical minimum in one hundred and sixty years since the Unification of Italy, which occurred in 1861.
Italy is “One of the Oldest Countries in the World”, Collapse of Births Continues
This is the verdict of Istat, Italy’s National Institute of Statistics, which in its Yearbook explains how the cause is the decrease in birth rate combined with the increase in average life expectancy, which is 80.8 years for males and 85.2 for females. While births decrease, deaths are also decreasing.
So Italy is at the top of the world statistics in terms of the average age of population, with 173.1 people aged 65 and over for every hundred people under 15 at the beginning of 2019.
Negative Natural Balance Due to Low Total Fertility Rate
In 2020, Italy’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR), also known as “average number of children per woman”, has been 1.24, well below the level of replacement for a population, which guarantees the stability of a population’s number and is about 2.1 children per woman.
That is why Italy’s natural balance (births minus deaths) has been negative for many years, with constant decline in population. In 2020 Italy has reached its most negative natural balance: -342,042.
Italy Has 2nd Lowest Rate of Marriages in the EU
In 2017, the European Union countries with the highest percentage of marriages in relation to population were Lithuania (7.5 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants) and Romania (7.3). These were followed by Cyprus and Latvia (both 6.8) and Malta (6.3). In contrast, the lowest marriage rates were in Slovenia (3.1), Italy and Luxembourg (both 3.2), and Portugal (3.3).
According to the Istat Yearbook, almost one child in three in Italy is born out of wedlock. In 2018 the percentage of those born out of wedlock was 32.3%; it was 8.1% in 1995 and 19.6% in 2008. On average, women become mothers at 31.2 years of age.
Increase in Births to Immigrant Women
Foreign citizens are steadily increasing and foreign immigrants are 8.7% of Italy’s population, up from 8.5% of the total as of January 1, 2018.
The increase in births up to 2008 was due to foreign women.
The deficit of new births with respect to deaths is found, however, almost exclusively in the Italian population. For the immigrant population, on the other hand, the natural balance is largely positive, as a result of the higher birth rate compared to Italians and the very low mortality rate due to the young age profile of this population.
Conclusion: What Happened to the Country of Romeo and Juliet?
Italy is the country of Verona, the city of Shakespeare’s characters Romeo and Juliet, the tragic youths and unfortunate lovers whose tale the great Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon based on The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562), poem by the English poet Arthur Brooke. The original source of that poem, in its turn, goes back to a short story by Italian prolific writer Matteo Bandello, Catholic Bishop who lived in the 1500s, considered by many the Renaissance’s most important short-story writer, who wrote 3 books (and a posthumous fourth part) of Novelle, a collection of in total 214 short stories.
Romeo and Juliet fell immediately in love and wanted to get married the next day after they met, which they did.
In Italy, strange as it may appear to an international public used to the idea of the country’s romanticism and “Latin lovers”, Italy’s couples kissing in the street and stories like Romeo and Juliet’s, marriage and children seem to have gone out of fashion.
The trend is by no means new but the Coronavirus lockdown has accelerated the crisis of “denatality” (as it’s called in Italy and France) into a precipice.
When I came to England in 1984, I found that the widespread idea was that Italian families had lots of children. Yet the demographic decline trend in Italy had already started. A few years later the UK media began reporting that Italy, along with Spain, had one of the world’s lowest birth rates.
Countries with oldest populations
Casa di Giulietta, by Lo Scaligero, pseudonimo di Andrea Bertozzi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons