From Glory to Despair – The Current State of Italy
Italy. One of the oldest civilized territories on the European continent. In a distant past, Rome dominated Europe. Its cities flourished and were full of life.
Nowadays, Italy’s villages are drained. The young move into the cities or seek a brighter future abroad. The few that stay simply don’t have enough children to maintain the population. The Mayor of one of these small towns, Domenico Lucano, found an interesting solution to this depopulation problem. His village, Riace, invited migrants to rejuvenate the town. Currently about a quarter of the two thousand inhabitants are migrants, primarily from Africa and Asia. The native Italians that still live there are mostly the elderly. The Guardian states the town has ”secured its own future”.
Although most easily visible in the small villages, it is a trend taking place on the national level.
To understand change, we must first understand the present. Italy has a population of just over 60 million, a number that has been fairly stable over the last decade. In recent years, since 2015, Italy’s population is shrinking slightly. That stability in population size is due to immigrants filling in the gaps. Italy’s fertility rate is far below the replacement rate of 2.1, sitting at 1.37. The overall population has an average age of 44.9 years and nearly one in four Italians is over the age of 65. Japan is the only country in the world with a higher percentage of 65 or older.
For comparison, Italy’s previous colony of Ethiopia has an average age of 17.6 years. Although Ethiopia’s fertility rate has decreased as well, it is still sitting at a massive 4.6 children per woman. Enough to double the size of the next generation.
Rather than doubling its population size, Italy’s fertility rate results in every generation being a third smaller than the last. Every new generation will be 30% smaller than the previous. A generation of 10 million Italians today, will have a total of 6.85 million children. They will have 4.7 million grandchildren and just over 3 million great-grandchildren. With a fertility rate of 1.37, within four generations 10 million has turned into 3 million.
Italy has not seen such a decline in its population since the Black Plague ravaged its lands. The only difference is that this time, rather than people dying, they were never born in the first place.
There are 5.4 million Italians living abroad, over 1.5 million of which have moved abroad since the economic crisis of 2008. The total now represents nearly 10% of the total inhabitants of Italy, and a disproportionate amount of young people. Despite a recent growth in the Italian economy, its relatively high unemployment is pushing away the young and desperate. The unemployment rate in Italy sits at 10.8%, with a youth unemployment of over 30%.
Easy migration within the EU has led many Italians to seek a brighter and more prosperous future abroad. The elderly are the ones that remain.
In a country that is already out of balance due to the lack of babies being born, the emigration further contributes to the population decline.
In 2002 the total number of foreign nationals living in Italy numbered over 1 million. Since 2015 there are over 5 million foreign nationals, approaching 10% of the total population. Foreign nationals excludes those that acquired Italian citizenship, as well as illegal immigrants. It is worth noting that half of the foreign nationals come from other European countries, notably Romania. Around half of the Europeans are from non-EU countries like Albania and the Ukraine. The other half come primarily from Africa and Asia.
The inflow of non-EU citizens into Italy in 2016 alone amounted to 226.000. The majority of these came as family reunification (45%), with the second most prominent reason being humanitarian reasons and asylum (34%). Only 5.8% gave the reason of work to move to Italy.
Out of the foreign nationals, 185.000 acquired Italian citizenship in 2016 and thereby ceased to belong to the category of foreign nationals. From then onward they will be counted as part of the regular Italian population. The 185.000 consisted primarily of Moroccans and Albanians, as well as significant amounts of Indians, Bangladeshi and Pakistani.
The Illegal Immigrants
Before the start of the migrant crisis, there were already an estimated 670.000 illegal immigrants in Italy back in 2008. Although in 2016 alone a total of 180.000 illegal migrants reached the Italian coast from Libya; the number that is present in Italy might have remained fairly constant as most continued their paths to Germany and Sweden. Nonetheless, the removal of half a million of illegal immigrants is still a hot topic in Italian politics.
Last year the Italian coastguard seized an NGO vessel operated by a German organization, claiming it was aiding in illegal migration from the Libyan coast to Italy. Yet, at the same time, the Italian government decided to bypass the Mediterranean Sea all together and promised to bring 10.000 Libyans to Rome by plane.
Islam in Italy
Currently 4.8% of Italians are Muslim, close to three million. According to Pew Research this will be between 8% and 14% by 2050. The range varies from 8% with zero migration, to 14% with a high migration scenario as we have seen over the last several years. However, these numbers exclude illegal immigrants, of whom their religious leaning is not known. Despite it being unknown, one could make an educated guess based on the countries of origin and conclude that a large percentage of the illegal immigrants is Muslim.
Although southern Italy was temporarily under control of the Caliphate, that Islamic era was ended by the Norman invasion of Sicily. The Muslims either fled or converted to Christianity. The renewed presence of Islam in Italy, the home of the Catholic Church, started in the last century with Somalians arriving. The current presence of Islam is purely due to the migrants arriving from Islamic countries.
Births and Deaths
Total births in 2016 amounted to 474.000, while deaths in the same year totaled 608.000. A difference of 134.000. The total population decreased by 86.000. The difference between the 134.000 and the 86.000 can be explained by net migration. With 115.000 Italians moving abroad in the same year, a simple calculation can show us the total immigration. Total loss was 608.000 (deaths) plus 115.000 (emigration), a total of 723.000. The total gains were 723.000 minus the shrinkage of 86.000, bringing us to 637.000. Out of these 637.000, births accounted for 474.000. That leaves 163.000 immigrants to supplement the population.
This number of 163.000 roughly matches the number given above. You will find that when it comes to these statistics on immigration, different sources often quote slightly different numbers, yet always in the same direction.
As seen from our calculation, a quarter of population replacement currently comes from immigration. Many of the births however, will also be from non-Italian parents, as they have on average a younger age and higher fertility rate.
The Future of Italy
We mentioned above that the generations are shrinking. With a fertility of 1.37, the 474.000 babies born last year will only create 325.000 children and 222.000 grandchildren. But here comes the one worth remember; they will only have around 150.000 great-grandchildren. If current fertility continues, which so far has been rather constant, and migration continues in a similar trend; then within four generations the majority of new Italians will not be Italian babies being born, but migrants coming into the country.
In the scenario above, it will mean that from that point onward, Italians will turn into a minority in their own country. As a generation lasts around twenty-five years, we will reach this turning point within a century.
Which Babies are Italian?
However… we have missed out one thing in our calculation. Those 474.000 babies are not really all Italian. Ten percent of the country is a foreign national, which would leave roughly 426.000 babies born to Italian nationals. They would have only 200.000 grandchildren and 137.000 great-grandchildren.
But, that is not all. Of these Italian nationals, many will have a migration background. Unfortunately, such numbers are not tracked and we would have to guess. Nonetheless, the foreign nationals will account for 22.000 grandchildren and 15.000 great-grandchildren, under the assumption that their fertility rate is the same as that of the average Italian. That is a wild assumption to make and it is highly unlikely, so 22.000 would be a rather low estimate.
Which Babies are Islamic?
Now, remember that 4.8% of Italy is Islamic. Across Europe, the average fertility rate for Muslims is 2.6 as opposed to the Italian 1.37. First of all, this would mean Muslims are over-represented compared to their 4.8% in the 474.000 births, as Muslim women are more likely to have children. For the sake of simplicity, let us assume 5% of the births are Muslim. A low estimate. That makes 23700 births Muslim. Keep in mind that the number of Muslim births overlaps with the births of foreign nationals. Because the Muslims have a fertility rate that is higher than the replacement rate, these 23.700 Muslims will have 40.000 grandchildren and 52.000 great-grandchildren.
Thus, within four generations we will see 137.000 babies with Italian national ancestry. We will see 22.000 babies with foreign national ancestry. And out of this total of 150.000, one in three will be Muslim with ancestors that are living in Italy today.
These are the babies born in a ZERO migration scenario.
- It excludes all babies born from immigrants that are yet to arrive into Italy.
- It excludes babies from illegal immigrants.
- It includes babies from Italian nationals with a migration background.
Adding in all the factors for which the data is unavailable or the computations go beyond our capability, would lead to more exact and shocking results.
Only 222.000 grandchildren will be born to the children of 2016, out of these 40.000 Muslim are babies born in Italy from its current Muslim population. Moreover, yearly immigration adds a 160.000 newcomers a year. Already the non-Islamic Italian nationals’ grandchildren of the generation born today will form a minority part of the population growth of Italy. Since a generation is generally calculated as being twenty-five years, so the grandchildren we are speaking of are a mere fifty years from now. The scenario we described is the scenario of 2070.
Italians may maintain the majority for a while longer, but its dominance will be in the 65+ category, rather than in the youth and middle-aged that control the nation. Italians will become strangers in their own country.
Even today, 52% of Italians agree with the statement ”There are so many foreigners here that it does not feel like home anymore”…