World

Italy's birth rate hits a new record low

The number of babies born in Italy hit a new record low in 2018, the population shrank and the average age crept higher, national statistics office ISTAT said on Wednesday.

Birth total of 440,000 last year said to be the lowest since the unification of Italy in 1861

Pope Francis holds a newborn at the San Giovanni hospital in Rome. According to the latest statistics, Italy's population continues to decline. (Osservatore Romano/Reuters)

The number of babies born in Italy hit a new record low in 2018, the population shrank and the average age crept higher, national statistics office ISTAT said on Wednesday.

Italy's demographic crisis, with a shrinking population and aging workforce, is one reason for its chronically stagnant economy, economists say — and the situation is getting worse.

Births dropped by some 18,000 to 440,000 last year, the lowest level since the unification of Italy in 1861, ISTAT said, while deaths totalled 633,000.

The total population fell by 124,000 to 60.36 million, the fourth straight year of decline, meaning that since 2014 Italy has lost some 400,000 residents, the equivalent of its seventh largest city, Bologna.

The anti-austerity government which took office a year ago has boosted welfare spending and vowed to cut taxes in a bid to improve families' stagnant incomes which it says contributes to their reluctance to have babies.

"We are in a terrible state," Matteo Salvini, interior minister and leader of the right-wing League commented on ISTAT's report on demographic trends.

"This is the real crisis, not the bond yield spreads or the economic crisis," he added.

The number of Italians moving abroad rose 1.9 per cent year on year, in 2018, while new residents from abroad decreased by 3.2 per cent.

Foreigners accounted for 8.7 per cent of the resident population at the end of last year, meaning Italians amounted to 55.1 million.

But Salvini has been opposed to large-scale immigration, overseeing the coalition government's hard-line approach of refusing boats carrying migrants across the Mediterranean to Italian shores.

Bolzano, on the northern border with Austria, was the only Italian province in which births exceeded deaths last year, while the death rate was highest in the northwestern coastal region of Liguria.

The UN has estimated that by 2050, Italy will have 74 citizens over the age of 65 for every 100 aged 20 to 64.

With files from CBC News

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