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ROME, February 16, 2015 ( – Italy is “dying,” facing a demographic collapse, the nation's health minister lamented this weekend.

For the first time since the country's unification in 1870, births are now outstripped by deaths.

The total number of children born in Italy in 2014 was 509,000, which is 5,000 fewer than in 2013.

This year is the lowest number of births in the nation's history. The latest statistics, which were made available last week by ISTAT the government’s national statistical agency, show a birth rate of 8.4 per 1,000 people.

Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin told a press conference, “We are at the threshold where people who die are not being replaced by newborns. That means we are a dying country.”
“This situation has enormous implications for every sector: the economy, society, health, pensions,” he said.

Lorenzin said the country needs “a wake-up call and a real change of culture to turn the trend around in the coming years.”

What Lorenzin did not mention was that last week’s statistics do not show a significant change from the trends of recent decades. In fact, the figures have shown Italy at that tipping point for some time.

In 2013, ISTAT revealed that deaths were already outstripping births, with 10.01 deaths per 1,000 population and only 8.94 births per 1,000.

Italian politicians have left their concern over the nation's low and declining birth rate mostly unvoiced for years, as there is almost no political will to ban or even significantly restrict abortion or contraception.

Italy’s lowest total fertility rate – calculated as the number of children born divided by the total number of women in the country – was reached in 1995 when there were 1.19 children born per woman, placing the nominally Catholic country as one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

This was the lowest point in a fall that started in the 1960s, corresponding with modernization of the country’s post-war economy, and the advent of the Sexual Revolution – including artificial contraception and, eventually, abortion.

In 1964, Italy’s total fertility rate stood at 2.65 children per woman. It has since leveled off, and hovers around 1.4 children per woman, well below the rate needed for a replacement level.

Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, writing in the UK’s Herald newspaper, said that although economic factors, which are the usual culprit named in the press, are undoubtedly at play, these are historically less significant in Italy’s chronically economically depressed southern regions. The Daily Telegraph quoted the statistics for the traditionally more fecund South, saying that now that area has the lowest birth rate because of the impact of the economic recession.

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Fr. Lucie-Smith says this change indicates something larger at work, a cultural and moral malaise that he describes as “a depression that goes beyond facts and figures: a depression of the collective soul.” He points to other statistics, not mentioned by the Health Minister, showing Italy’s abortion rate at about 20–25 percent of all pregnancies.

“It may seem a statement of the obvious, but there are fewer children around, because people do not want to have children. The children they might have had have been aborted, or they never came to be in the first place because of contraception,” Fr. Lucie-Smith writes.

Italy legalized abortion in 1978, and, according to recent data, about the same percentage of women (about 45 percent) use hormonal contraceptives in Italy as in the United States and the UK. The median female age is 45.6 years, well past the age at which it is easy to conceive.

The statistics also show that Italian women are waiting longer to have children, with the average age for a first child now 31.5 years.