Italy is facing a serious decline in birth rates, stoking alarm across the country. For the first time since the 19th century, the number of births in a year fell below 400,000. According to official figures for 2022, this number represents an average of 1.25 babies per Italian woman, solidifying the fact that Italy has the lowest birth rates in Europe.
The number of deaths now exceeds the number of births, creating a negative replacement rate – there are 12 deaths for every seven births. Italy registered 393,000 babies in 2022, the lowest since the country began keeping records in 1861. According to Italy's national birth registrar, this official record does not include babies born in the country to unregistered migrants or to same-sex and heterosexual couples who used surrogates abroad.
While the latest figures are causing widespread alarm, it is not the first time Italy has grappled with negative statistics regarding birth rates. In fact, birth rates have been on a steady decline since the 2008 economic crisis. For the last 15 years, less and less Italians are having children due to economic insecurity. The average monthly income in Italy is roughly €2,475, or $2,663, according to Italy’s National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), while the average monthly rental for a 100 square meter family apartment is €1,212, or $1,316. This means that, on average, roughly half of Italians’ monthly income is going toward paying rent.
Experts say the country must register at least 500,000 births a year to prevent Italy’s social security system from imploding. If birth rates continue to decline, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) could plummet by 18% over the next 20 years, according to Giancarlo Giorgetti, the Italian Minister of Economy and Finance.
Pope Francis recently warned that Europe is going through a “demographic winter,” and addressed Italy’s declining birth rates by encouraging Italians to have more children. The Pope also asked that the country’s politicians take more proactive steps to addressing financial uncertainty, adding that having children is a luxury afforded only to the rich.
"We must not accept that our society gives up on generating life and degenerates into sadness," said Pope Francis. "When there is no generation of life, sadness steps in, which is an ugly and gray sickness."
The Pope has repeatedly criticized those who choose to have pets instead of children. In a recent address, he told the story of a woman who asked him to bless her “baby,” only to reveal to him a small dog. "There I lost my patience, and I yelled at the woman: "Madam, many children are hungry, and here you are with a dog!"
Asia London Palomba
Asia London Palomba is a trilingual freelance journalist from Rome, Italy. In the past, her work on culture, travel, and history has been published in The Boston Globe, Atlas Obscura, The Christian Science Monitor, and Grub Street, New York Magazine's food section. In her free time, Asia enjoys traveling home to Italy to spend time with family and friends, drinking Hugo Spritzes, and making her nonna's homemade cavatelli.