Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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Women entering workforce major contributor to plunging Italian birth rates

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, April 28, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The decision by most women to delay childbirth for work and careers is the main cause of Europe’s birth rate crisis, a report from an international economic organization has said.

The report found that Italy experienced one of the largest jumps in the number of women entering the workforce between 1995 and 2009, from about 38 percent to 46 percent of the female population.

This increase has coincided with the fall in the birth rates that has left Italy one of the fastest aging countries of Europe. The decision to delay having children has resulted in many women having no children at all. Twenty-four percent of Italian women born in 1965 are childless, compared to 10 percent in France.

In its report the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), an international economic organization of 34 countries, highlights the coming demographic crisis in many European countries.

The report notes that “almost no OECD country has a total fertility rate above the population replacement rate of two children per women.”

In these countries more women say they want to “first establish themselves in the labour market before founding a family.” This has pushed up the median age of women entering motherhood and put pressure on women to continue earning even while they raise children.

The Italian birth rate, which hit an all-time low in 2004 of 1.23 children born per woman, had climbed slightly in 2009 to approximately 1.32. But although Italy’s fertility rate is creeping up, it is still near the bottom with this year’s statistic of 1.41 children per woman, a figure that will still result in dramatic reductions of population over time.

Of the 34 OECD countries, only Israel, Iceland, New Zealand and Turkey are above the replacement birth rate of 2.1 children per woman. Mexico, Ireland and the U.S. come close with 2.08, 2.07 and 2.01 respectively.

Recent national statistics show that 25 percent of Italian women have no children and another 25 percent will have only one child. The Italian region of Liguria in northwestern Italy now has the world’s highest ratio of elderly to youth and has closed ten percent of its schools since 2000.

Social scientists speculate that the low Italian birth rate has a number of causes, including a new consumerist mentality that holds the acquisition of goods to be the higher social goal than family.

Far from the widely accepted traditional model of large, boisterous families, Italian society is rapidly becoming one of singles and two-job, one-child married couples.

Families remain close-knit and parents routinely buy apartments or houses close to the family home for their grown children. But expensive gifts like cars, motorini and electronics are considered the norm and it is considered impossible to provide these comforts for more than one or two children.

Italy’s economic boom, which started in the 1970s, has coincided with the plummeting birth rates. The OECD report says that for the countries of Southern Europe, including Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, the birth rate plunge started earliest, in 1970, dropped the lowest – hitting bottom at 1.2 in 1994 – and has recovered the least.

Between 1970 and 2008, across the OECD, the average age at which women have their first child increased from 24 to 28. The average age of first childbirth of women is even higher, at just below 30 years of age, in Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

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