ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s population will shrink by 5 million over the next 30 years unless decisive action is taken to increase the number of births, the director of the national statistics institute ISTAT warned on Thursday.
The COVID-10 pandemic has accelerated a long-running decline in Italy’s birth rate, ISTAT reported in March, with 399,431 births recorded in 2021 compared to 404,892 in 2020.
This marked the 13th consecutive annual decline and the lowest number since Italy’s unification in 1861. The population fell from 253,000 to 59 million.
“If the fertility rate remains around the current level of 1.2 children per woman, in 40-50 years we will only see 250,000 births per year,” said ISTAT President Gian Carlo Blangiardo during of a conference in Rome on Italian demography.
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“In 2050 we will have 5 million fewer inhabitants, with 2 million fewer young people,” Blangiardo said.
Conference organisers, a lobby group called The Birthrate Foundation, said it was crucial to reach at least 500,000 births a year, a level last recorded in 2014, calling for a marked increase in benefits social for families.
The group’s chairman, Gigi De Palo, has warned that unless Italy reverses the trend of an aging and shrinking population, its already weak economic growth will decline and it will become impossible to fund social protection and adequate state pensions.
Blangiardo said “a real effort” would be needed to reach 500,000 births a year in a decade, but he signaled a modest recovery in recent months from the situation at the height of the COVID crisis.
In the three months to February, births were up 6% year-on-year, he said, but were still down 6.5% from 2019 before the pandemic.
Pope Francis said in a written message to the conference that concrete measures were needed to address “the real social emergency” of falling birth rates and “reverse the trend of this cold demographic winter”.
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