Monday, February 18, 2008

Italian Fertility

Lowest-Low Fertility. Signs of a recovery in Italy?
M. Caltabiano, M. Castiglioni, A. Rosina
Italy is a country characterized by persistent very low fertility levels. A country’s fertility level is considered to be “very low” if it falls below 1.5 children per woman (Lesthaeghe and Willems, 1999). “Lowest low fertility,” on the other hand, was introduced by Kohler et al. (2002), in order to describe those cases in which the total period fertility rate (TFR) drops below 1.3. Lowest low fertility levels were recorded at a national level for the first time in Italy (and Spain) in 1992. Italy has now had a fertility level below 1.5 for over twenty years, and the last 15 years have seen levels near or below 1.3.

More specifically, Italy’s TFR dropped dramatically in the early 1990s and since then has not risen above 1.3 children per woman. In fact, the country reached a record low in the mid 1990s, recording a TFR of less than 1.2. Fertility rates since then have gradually increased (for the first time since the baby boom), up to today’s current fertility level of 1.33 children per woman (Istat, 2006).

The moderate yet significant increase in fertility in the last 10 years is further specified by diverse regional patterns. In the northern regions of Italy, period fertility has returned to the levels observed in the early 1980s, in large part due to an increasing number of babies born to immigrants, whose fertility is higher than native Italians. Overall, however, there has probably occurred a slight increase in native fertility as well, related to both new forms of family formation among the younger cohorts and to a recovery of postponed births among the older cohorts (today about 15% of births occur outside of wedlock, while about 10% of births are from immigrant parents).

In a number of southern regions, on the other hand, period fertility has continued to decline to very low levels (e.g. in 2005, TFR in Sardinia was at around 1.0). In other southern regions, period fertility levels have recently stabilized, although at levels much lower than those observed in early 1980s. Even if one considers cohort fertility, rather than looking at period measures, Italian fertility levels still result particularly low. According to the Council of Europe’s 2005 Demographic Yearbook, Italy has the lowest total cohort fertility rate (CTFR) in Europe (1.5 for the birth cohort 1965), and there is no indication that the decline in cohort fertility has come to a halt.

Analyses which take into account diverse trends in fertility levels across regions and social groups can reveal more detailed information. For example, recent studies indicate that the negative impact of level of education on fertility levels has begun to decrease. (Rosina 2004; Dalla Zuanna, Tanturri, in press). In the first part of our paper we present and discuss current developments with regard to fertility in Italy, both at the national and regional levels, using data recently published by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat, 2006).

We apply a cohort approach, showing changes both in CTFR and in the timing of births for the 1950-1980 cohorts. In the second part of our paper, we focus on “late first-birth fertility” (entry into motherhood after the age of 35), using individual level data from the 2003 Istat multipurpose survey on the family “Famiglia e soggetti sociali”. We investigate both the determinants of postponement (or the propensity to reach age 35 without having had a child) as well as the determinants of recovery (or the propensity to subsequently have a child for those women who reach age 35 with parity zero).

Italy’s path to very low fertility. The adequacy of economic and second demographic transition theories
David Kertzer, Michael White, Laura Bernardi, Giuseppe Gabrielli

The deep drop of the fertility rate in Italy to among the lowest in the world challenges contemporary theories of childbearing and family building. Among high income countries, Italy was presumed to have characteristics of family values and female labor force participation that would favor higher fertility than its European neighbors to the north. We test competing economic and cultural explanations, drawing on new nationally representative, longitudinal data to examine first union, first birth, and second birth. Our event history analysis finds some support for economic determinants of family formation and fertility, but the clear importance of regional differences and of secularization suggests that such an explanation is at best incomplete and that cultural and ideational factors must be considered.

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