The birth rate of Italy, at a rate of 1.23 children per woman is the second lowest in the Western world. Women rarely have more than one child. The government and the Catholic Church in this staunchly Catholic nation are perplexed and concerned by this phenomenon.
The Government's response has been to try to bribe couples into having babies. In 2003 Roberto Maroni, the labour and welfare minister in Silvio Berlusconi's administration, offered 1 000 euros to every woman who had a second child. The bonus was paid to the 190,000 women. Maroni has now decided to extend the scheme to women who have their first child.
Rocco Falivena, the mayor of Laviano, says that the government's 1 000 euro bonus is ‘a symbolic amount,’ not enough to encourage women to have more children. In a bid to use financial incentives to increase the birth rate in his own town (In 2002 only four babies were born.) He decided last year to offer women 10 000 euros over a five year period for each additional baby they have.
Letizia Mencarini, a professor of statistics at the University of Florence, questioned more than 3 000 mothers from five different cities across Italy in an effort to find out what would persuade them to have more children.
She found that the more the father was involved in the chores of looking after the child and household, the more likely his wife was to want and have a second baby. The survey indicated that Italian men do little around the house - fewer than six per cent of mothers responded that their husbands "always" or "often" did household chores . Consequently many women cannot face the dual burden of going out to work and looking after an extra child. They have to give up one of those two options: they usually decide to sacrifice the extra child.
There is evidence from other countries that men's participation in household chores affects the chances that a wife will have a second baby. Sweden’s birth rate is nearly 50 per cent higher than Italy's. Swedish men are rather more willing to share the burden of domestic chores and surveys of Swedish women reveal that 90 per cent say that they could not imagine having children if the father was not prepared to share the responsibilities of the household.
Sunday Telegraph 18/Apr/04 reported in Push Journal 19/Apr/04