ROME, June 3, 2011 ( – The archetypal Italian family, with mamma and papa presiding over a noisy dinner table, surrounded by rambunctious children and grandchildren, has become a cultural artifact of the past. Not only are Italians not having children, they are increasingly not even bothering to get married, according to recently released government statistics.

The decline in marriages is unusually uniform in a country that sees large regional cultural differences between north and south. While Italy still has a relatively low rate of divorce, with only about 10 percent of marriages failing, young people especially are increasingly either delaying marriage for decades, or opting out altogether. 

The decrease can mainly be seen in a decline in first marriages, particularly among people under 35. In just two years, the number of first marriages across the country has dropped by 30,000. At the same time, while abortion rates remain relatively low compared to other countries, Italy continues its birth-rate spiral, with only 1.39 children born per woman.

The crude marriage rates in Italy (the number of marriages per 1,000 individuals in the population), fell between 1970 and 2007 from 7.35 to 4.21.

The government Istat report found that while increasing numbers of “de facto unions” and cohabitation before marriage influenced the numbers, the main reason for the drop in marriage is the “prolonged stay of young people in the family of origin.” Italy’s “precarious” work and housing situation, with house and rent prices increasing despite the global economic crisis, has contributed to young people staying in their parents’ home.

The continuing global fallout of the 1960s and ‘70s Sexual Revolution has hit the Mediterranean countries hard. A report by the US-based National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, found that southern European countries had the lowest divorce rates in 1970, but experienced the largest combined increases in the crude divorce rate over the following thirty years. “A likely factor driving this increase is that divorce in these three countries was legalized in the past three decades,” the report found.

Italy may be showing the tiny island nation of Malta what their future will hold after their vote this week to legalize divorce. Marriages are already decreasing in Malta, with the overall crude rate dropping progressively from 8.5 per 1000 population in 1980 to 5.9 per 1000 in 2005. With the introduction of civil marriage in 1975, the islands have seen an increase in the civil marriages from 0.3 per 1000 in 1980 to 4.0 in 2005. Proportionately to Christian marriages, civil marriages since 1980 have seen a steady increase, about 30 percent, with a sharp rise after 1991. Canonical marriages have halved in the same period, from 8.2 per 1000 to 4.0.

Marriage breakdown in Malta has seen a shocking increase over the last 30 years, with the 1985 census showing 1.1 percent of marriages suffered separation, annulment or divorce. By 1995, that number had increased 78.4 percent to 1.7 per cent. By 2005, the number had jumped to 4 percent of the population, an increase since 1985 of 161.9 percent.

In contrast the number of married individuals has only risen by 7.5 percent, a figure approximately half that of the observed rise in the total population, or 13.9 percent.