Italy is a beautiful country. Shannon and I enjoyed a wonderful pre-baby holiday there when we were newly married. We loved our time in Rome (too short!) and Florence (the art!) and the few nights we stayed in the Cinque Terre (the swimming!) The only downside was that the summer heat and being 28 weeks pregnant did not lend itself to Shannon being filled with anticipation and excitement as I tried to lead her around the corner to yet one more historic church or down yet one more gallery.
One part of Italy that we didn’t get to (one of many!) was Molise. It is a mountainous region to the south-east of Rome, north of Naples bordered by the Adriatic. It is also severely underpopulated. According to the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat) the region is home to just over 300,000 people, but that number is shrinking. Over the last five years it has seen its population shrink by nearly 10,000 and the decline is accelerating. Last year the population shrunk by 2,800 people, an increase of nearly 1,000 from the year before. Nine towns in the region saw not a single baby born in 2018.
And so, in order to reverse this trend, the regional president, Donato Toma, is offering people €700 per month to come and live in one of its villages for three years. The newcomer must pledge to open a business, and the village selected must have fewer than 2,000 residents. The intent is obvious: more people, more businesses, more investment, and hopefully more new life will be born into these communities. Further these smaller villages will be given grants to build infrastructure and promote cultural activities to try and entice residents to stay.
Molise’s attempts to rejuvenate its population is making headlines around the world, just like other attempts we’ve seen, like the selling of houses in Sicily for €1. Whether any of these attempts work is another thing. They seem more like gimmicks trying to paper over some very large demographic cracks.
Molise is a microcosm for the demographic change hitting Italy as a whole. The number of Italian citizens living in Italy has hit 55 million, a number last seen 90 years ago. In the last five years the number of Italian citizens resident in country fell by nearly 700,000 people. It is a beautiful country, but one that is slowly emptying of people, leaving behind an ageing population. For every 100 Italians under the age of 15, there are 168.7 over the age of 65. A figure that is higher than every other country in the world except Japan. In the next five years Italy will be the only major European economy which is expected to see its population decline. So expect to see more and more stories of Italian towns offering financial incentives for new citizens. Someone is going to have to fill these towns if the Italians won’t.
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.