The Italian birthrate, which has been well below replacement levels for over four decades, fell to a record low of 1.16 births per woman in 2020 as would-be parents grappled with socially oppressive and economically ruinous COVID-19 lockdowns.
Last year, which saw a total of 404,892 newborns brought into the world—15,000 fewer births than were recorded in 2019—was illustrative of Italy’s decades-long, unrelenting march towards the demographic abyss, with official projections saying the country could lose a fifth of its population by 2070, Il Giornale reports.
According to a report published by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), the most precipitous decline in births took place during the months of November and December, dropping 8.3% and 10.7%, respectively. While ISTAT said there was “little doubt about the role of the pandemic,” the organization also noted that the trend seems to be lasting.
Italy has seen birth rates reduced by one-third in a little more than a decade, with families where both parents are Italians witnessing the most drastic decline. Births among those with at least one non-Italian parent have also decreased slightly but now comprise nearly a quarter of all births in Italy.
Italy’s population, which presently is composed of some 59.6 million people, is projected to fall to 47.6 million in 2070, a 20% drop. The country is facing an aging population as well, with nearly a quarter (23.2%) of its population aged 65 or older—a figure projected to swell to 35% by 2050.
Perhaps even grimmer, before 2050, deaths are projected to outnumber births by a factor of two—784,000 in contrast with 391,000.
Despite the dismal outlook, eminent political figures like Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the national-conservative Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), and Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing populist Lega, have promised to address demographic decline head-on as soon as they assume the reins of power.
“I am preparing to govern the nation. I am ready to do what Italians ask me to do by understanding my responsibility,” Ms. Meloni said earlier this year in an interview with Rai 3. “The first things I would do if I went to the government would be policies to support businesses—and incentives for the birth rate.”
“[O]ne of the biggest problems in Italy concerns the birth rate. A large birth rate incentive plan to restart births would be a priority,” she said. “With the rates now,” she added, “in 30 years we will no longer be able to pay pensions.”
Ms. Meloni’s sentiments were echoed by Matteo Salvini last month when he voiced his opposition to so-called ‘replacement migration’ and signaled his support for pro-family policies that incentivize young Italian couples to have more children.
“My objective is to give economic serenity to Italians to encourage them to have children,” Salvini told The Guardian. “I refuse to think of substituting ten million Italians with ten million migrants,” he added.
The dramatic decline in Italian births amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic isn’t exceptional. The trend is also present on the Iberian peninsula, in Spain, where the number of recorded births dropped by nearly 6% last year, falling to 1.19 births per woman, down from 1.24 in 2019.
Like Italy, the Spanish birthrate—as far back as the 1980s—has been well below 2.1 children per woman, the rate required for a population to reproduce itself.