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Italy's population starts to decline, as gov't lacking in helping policies

Published : 27 May 2018, 18:21

  DF-Xinhua Report by Eric J. Lyman
File Photo Xinhua.

Italy's population this year started what is expected to be a long and steady decline, a trend analysts say is likely to have an impact on its tax base, pension costs, and economic innovation.

The United Nations statistics estimate that Italy's population has peaked at 59.3 million, fourth highest in the European Union (behind Germany, the United Kingdom and France). The average net increase of 192 migrant arrivals per day is no longer enough to compensate for the average death rate of 1,721 per day, compared with the average births of 1,325.

That means, on average, the country's total population is diminishing by one person every seven minutes.

Italy's internal census estimates show a similar total population, but indicate the country's population will edge higher for nearly a quarter of a century more, peaking at around 64 million in 2042.

But regardless of the estimates used, analysts agree that the country's low birthrate and rising life expectancy is resulting in an aging population.

The average Italian is now 45.1 years old, the second oldest population in the world, behind only Japan. And this is expected to give rise to a host of demographic problems.

"As a population ages, it creates obvious problems for pensions, health care costs, and labor markets," Maria Silvana Salvini, a demographics expert at the University of Florence, told Xinhua. "But there are also less evident problems such as less innovation, whether in business, technology, or culture."

Alessandro Polli, a professor of economic statistics at Rome's La Sapienza University, noted that many mature, industrialized countries have similar issues. But he said the problem is particularly pronounced in Italy.

"There are cultural factors involved, but there is also the problem of more than 30 years of policies that do nothing to improve the situation," Polli said in an interview.

The problem is not a new one in Italy. From the late 1920s to the early 1940s, Italy had a controversial "Battle for Births" program under Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, with the goal of increasing Italy's population from 40 million in 1927 to 60 million in 1950.

Families were offered low-interest loans that would be partially cancelled each time they had children, and a family with six or more kids paid no income taxes. Woman of child-bearing age were fired from state jobs to make it easier for them to raise children, while unmarried men paid income taxes at a rate that increased over time. State-sponsored advertisements pressured families to have more children.

Few experts would endorse such dramatic policies today. But both Salvini and Polli said the Italian government could take relatively easy steps that could help slow the decrease in population.

"Labor laws create a kind of disincentive for childbirth," Polli said. "Companies are less likely to hire women who have their child-bearing years ahead of them, and there is no real protection for a pregnant woman who is fired from her job just for being pregnant."

Salvini noted that some European countries -- France and the Nordic countries are the best examples -- offer support for working mothers and tax incentives for families that have more kids.

"It's no coincidence that the countries with these policies in place are the ones most immune to declining population," she said. "It would not be difficult for Italy to offer certain benefits to families starting with the third child, or to make it easier for mothers to balance work and family, through changes in health care or by making child care more affordable for working mothers."