Демография России (сайт посвящён проф. Д. И. Валентею)

Money, pope can't make Italian women have more kids

April 18, 2004


The village of Laviano, in the south of Italy near Naples, used to be overrun with children under 5. Today, you have to search very hard to find any youngsters at all. The school is almost empty and the playground is silent.

Thirty years ago, the village, which now has a population of 1,500, saw as many as 70 babies born every year. In 2002, there were only four births. That sad statistic is repeated in many of the more than 40,000 small towns and villages across Italy.

The birth rate of 1.23 children per woman in Italy is the second lowest in the Western world. Women rarely have more than one child.

The government seems as perplexed by the situation as the pope, who two years ago begged Italians to "rediscover . . . their mission as parents." His plea fell on deaf ears. The Italians, the most solidly Catholic group in Europe, ignored his request to have more children, just as they have ignored his teaching on the sinfulness of contraception.

"Italians," as one demographer put it, "have not given up sex. They have merely given up procreation."

The government's response has been to try to bribe couples into having babies. Last year, Roberto Maroni, the labor and welfare minister, offered 1,000 euros, about $1,200, to every woman who had a second child. Maroni last week announced that he would make a similar payment to every woman who gave birth for the first time.

Rocco Falivena, the mayor of Laviano, went one better, and last year offered women 10,000 euros, about $12,000 for each additional baby.

Italian economists and statisticians are puzzling over what incentives would be sufficient to make Italian women have additional children. Letizia Mencarini, a statistics professor at the University of Florence, questioned more than 3,000 mothers from five cities to find out what would persuade them.

She found that the more the father was involved in the chores of looking after the child and household, the more likely his wife was to want and have a second baby. And, she suggested, Italian men want their wives to look after them as their mothers did. That "has a significant effect on lowering the likelihood that a woman will have a second child."

Lucia Pannunzio, a teacher in Vastrogirardi, believes the situation would improve if only Italian men could be persuaded to change. "They think a mama is better than a wife," she says. "You can't blame young women for delaying a marriage in which they will have to take over from their mother-in-law and do all the domestic work for no reward. Our mothers did it -- but this generation won't put up with it."

Sunday Telegraph

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