[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
LANGUAGES
Russian
Polish
Albanian
Greek
Serbian
Turkish
More
Last Updated: Thursday, 2 October, 2003, 08:30 GMT 09:30 UK
Italy baby-cash aims to boost births
By Tamsin Smith
BBC, Rome

Babies
The Italian Government would like to see more of these
In Italy, a country with the lowest birth rate and fastest ageing population in Europe, the foundations of the ample state pension scheme have already begun to crumble.

Italy leads a crisis throughout Europe, where fertility rates are plummeting and life expectancy increasing.

The Italian Government is planning to raise the retirement age from 60 to 65, a proposal which has already triggered labour unrest including the announcement of a strike on 24 October.

Helping families to have more children if they want to is a duty for our country and workforce
Marco Follini
Christian Democrat leader
But is there a simpler solution?

This week the Italian Government announced in its annual budget a cash bonus for the birth of a second child - can this deliver?

The Italians spend more on baby clothes and toys than any other Europeans, but they have fewer babies.

'Save the family'

In the pre-war years, Italians traditionally had large extended families, but rapid industrialisation meant people moved away from their familiy network to find jobs in cities and the birth rate declined rapidly.

Today this situation is nearing crisis point.

We do see a peak of fertility when the measure is first implemented, but then we see that the attitudes come back to normal levels because it is not just about money
Maura Mitziti
Population researcher
"If projections are right, then in 2050 Italy will have 15 million fewer people than today, which means we won't have enough young people to pay for welfare system, pensions, health and so on, " says economist Giuseppe Pennisi.

In a country where family values are still closely linked to the church, the Catholic lobby in government has been shouting loudest for solutions to save the Italian family from extinction.

"Helping families to have more children if they want to is a duty for our country and workforce," says Marco Follini, leader of the Union of Christian Democrats and supporter of the new proposal to reward parents financially for producing more children.

It's not just the money, it's too difficult for schools, services and everything like this
Parents Francesco and Natalia
"In our budget we have set aside 500 million euros for families, so we can offer 1,000 euros to each child born and to help parents bring children more easily into the world."

So could this measure be the key to a new baby boom?

"It is possible that it works," says Maura Mitziti, a researcher from the national institute of population research in Rome who has studied the impact of cash incentives on fertility.

Only children

"Measures like these have been used in Sweden, and we do see a peak of fertility when the measure is first implemented. But then we see that the attitudes come back to normal levels because it is not just about money."

In the early evening many church squares across Italy are full of parents and children. They gather so the many single children can play with each other.

Asked why she only decided to have one child, Bettina said: "People prefer to just have one so they can give the child everything - the best schools, the best clothes, the best everything."

"We have one child," said Francesco and Natalia. "She's five but we're not planning any more. It's not just the money, it's too difficult for schools, services and everything like this."

Logistical nightmare

The problem is that the rapid post-war industrialisation of Italy was not accompanied by modernisation of family support. Many women now work but the lack of creche and after-school care makes it much more difficult to balance work and children.

Schools here in Rome can finish at any time between 1330 and 1630, which Maura Mitziti describes as a logistical nightmare for parents with more than one child.

"We have a tradition of bad services - creche, kindergarten, even timings of schools and shops... and of course lots of bureacracy," she says. "We need the value of equal opportunities to be recognised and people to recognise the value of work-life balance."

Although this year's budget plans cash handouts for new babies, there are no plans for investment in these social services so badly needed by working mothers.

Watching Italian parents pushing their single pushchairs or prams, you are left with the impression Italy is becoming a nation of only children.

To reverse this trend and to re-populate Italy, parents do not just need a cash bonus, they also need long term investment to improve social support and change attitudes.


SEE ALSO:
Italians fear a poor old age
03 Jun 03  |  Business
Ageing Europe is unprepared
02 Aug 03  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Ageing: Europe's growing problem
11 Sep 02  |  Business
Italy 'must face pension reform'
29 Sep 03  |  Business
Italy slides into recession
08 Aug 03  |  Business


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific