Italians might have a global reputation for strong family traditions, appreciation of guilt and codependent parent-child relationships, but demographics show that Italians are actually having fewer children.
This story first appeared in the February 20, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
While birth rates in northern Italy have traditionally been lower than the south, the southern part of the country is starting to follow this trend. According to EUROSTAT, the European Union’s statistical agency, the per capita birth rate among Swedes — notoriously low — now exceeds those hot-blooded southerners in Naples.
Social behavioral experts point to a confluence of factors affecting this demographic shift, most specifically Italians’ desire to live at home with their parents well into their twenties and even into their thirties.
“Italians take a longer time to become what most consider independent adults because they stay at home until a very late age, the latest in all of Europe,” said Federico Billari, associate professor of demography at Bocconi University here.
Current figures show that the average age Italian men leave home is 26.7, while women tend to pack up at around 23.6. Meanwhile, between 45 and 60 percent of Italian men flee the nest upon their first marriage; that number jumps even higher for women, with 53 to 73 percent moving out of their parents’ house when they say “I do.”
Mammoni, or “mama’s boy,” is what Italians call men and women who prefer the comforts and adulation of doting parents than the struggles of living alone.
Since moving out is delayed, so is starting a family. “By the time women get married, they’re most likely in the middle of a career and have become dependent on a certain salary, so the question of having many children becomes an issue of resources, both financial and emotional,” Billari said.
Since Italians still hold dear the idea of family and children, Billari says most families will have at least one child. “Couples want to give everything to this one child — it’s become this idea of having one perfect child and investing everything in that child,” Billari said.
One child, however, is not enough to replenish the society and the Italian Statistic Agency, ISTAT, expects Italy’s native population to decrease 11 percent to 52 million by 2050.