On this Mother’s Day, Pope Francis has one message for all young Italians: Start a Family!
On Friday, the head of the Catholic Church joined Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to urge Italians to have more children as the country faces a steep population decline and the economic and social consequences accompanying this harsh reality. In fact, last year was the first time since Italy’s reunification in the 19th century that the number of live births in the country fell below 400,000. This decline in birth rates, in addition to the increase in mortality rates after 713,499 deaths were recorded in 2022, is considered a “national emergency” by the Prime Minister. She was elected, in part, due to her pro-family values centered around “God, family, and fatherland,” and she intends to back up her words with action by supporting a plan that aims to increase the annual birth rate to 500,000 by 2033.
“Fixing the problem is an absolute priority. We want Italy to go back to having a bright future,” said Meloni as she stood alongside the Pope, both dressed in white in a symbolic display of unity on the issue.
Prime Minister Meloni will undoubtedly have her work cut out for her, as Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. Women only have 1.24 children on average, and this is due to several factors, such as a lack of affordable childcare, low wages, unstable work, and the Italian tradition of women caring for their elderly parents.
Whatever the reason, there is a clear problem, and it isn’t going away. According to ISTAT President Gian Carlo Blangiardo’s estimates, the Italian population could decrease by over 10 million people by 2070. At that rate, Italy is at risk of reducing its gross domestic product (GDP) by 18% as soon as 2042, says Economy Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti.
It is worth noting that Italy has seen an increase in migrants in recent years, but Blangiardo does not believe that this will fix the issue at hand. “Even with an additional 260,000 immigrants each year, as foreseen by Eurostat, we’ll still easily lose 5 to 6 million inhabitants,” he said. As a result, the solution to this problem will need to come from within.
In order to prevent a “demographic winter,” Pope Francis is encouraging young Italians to stop making “selfish, egotistical” decisions, such as buying pets to satisfy their natural desire to care for a living being. Instead, he urges them to “plant the future” with hope by having children of their own. That may be easier said than done, though, as even the Pope admitted that having a baby in Italy today has become a “titanic effort” that only the rich can afford:
“We cannot passively accept that so many young people struggle to realize their family dream and are forced to lower the bar of desire, settling for mediocre substitutes: making money, aiming for a career, traveling, jealously guarding leisure time,” said Francis.
The best way to summarize the path forward is with the Pope’s words themselves:
“Let us not resign ourselves to sterile dullness and pessimism.” “Let us not believe that history is already marked, that nothing can be done to reverse the trend.”