By Hilary White

ROME, March 24, 2010 ( – A new report issued Tuesday has revealed that 53.4 per cent of Italian families have no children. The report said that 21.9 per cent of households have only one child and just 19 per cent have two. While mass immigration contributes to Italy’s population growth, the country’s rock-bottom fertility rate of 1.31 children born per woman has resulted in a largely childless and aging nation.

The report was compiled by the Milan-based International Center for Family Studies that identified the reason for Italians’ reluctance to procreate as “economic reasons.” 19.5 per cent of families interviewed cited the lack of money for not having more children. 8.9 per cent said it is their inability to juggle families and jobs and 0.3 per cent blamed insufficient housing space.

An examination of the effects of the global economic crisis, however, showed that only 16.4 per cent of families could be described as “below the poverty line.” But 37.2 per cent of the respondents claimed that they had trouble making it to the end of the month, with a further 22 per cent saying they sometimes had financial trouble.

The report found that the average monthly expenditure for dependent children is 35.3 per cent of the total family expenditure.

Others cited the small size of their homes, the precariousness of their job situations and lack of available childcare. However, the statistics in the report show that a massive 57.8 per cent of childless households merely said they had no children out of “personal choice.” Reasons for this personal choice, the report said, include a general sense of uncertainty about the future and the inherent difficulties involved in raising children.

The report made several suggestions for dealing with this national crisis, including increasing government family allowances and reforming personal income tax deductions.

Speaking at the report’s presentation in Milan, Gianfranco Fini, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, said there should be a fast-track procedure for children born in Italy of foreign parents to become Italian citizens. “Talking about a seven, ten or even 12-year wait is fine for adults but this is not acceptable for children,” he said.

Italy’s demographics show that it is following the same depopulation trends of most western countries since the 1960s. With decades of a below-replacement level birth rate, population growth in Italy has petered out, despite continued foreign immigration, with 2009 statistics showing -0.047 per cent increase.

The post-WWI economic boom saw a large part of the traditionally rural population move into the cities, but urbanization did not immediately result in a drop in the birth rate. It was not until the global “Sexual Revolution” in the 1970s, with its introduction of artificial contraceptives and, later, legalized and state-funded abortion that the fertility rate suddenly plunged below replacement.

It has only been since the introduction of millions of non-Italian immigrants that the birth rate has seen any recovery. According to government statistics, about 7.5 per cent of the population of Italy are recent immigrants.

Since joining the Euro, the personal wealth of Italians has grown, while the birth rate continues to fall and life expectancy increases. The overall average life expectancy in Italy is 80.2 years. The result, as with most western countries, has been a demographic shift towards an aging population with few young people entering the work force to support them.

Families in Italy continue to be tight-knit, with many children living with parents well into adulthood. Fewer Italians are getting married and those who do are waiting until later in life.

As of 2009, the median age for women in Italy was 44.8 years, the age at which conception is less likely.

Government efforts to stop the decline, mostly in the form of offers of cash for children, have largely failed. In 2003, Roberto Maroni, labor and welfare minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s administration, offered 1000 Euros to every woman who had a second child. The bonus was paid to only 190,000 women.