The Italian health minister has recently said some alarming words about her country’s demographic outlook:

We are very close to the threshold of non-renewal where the people dying are not replaced by new-borns. That means we are a dying country,” Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said.

This situation has enormous implications for every sector: the economy, society, health, pensions, just to give a few examples,” Lorenzin said.

We need a wake-up call and a real change of culture to turn the trend around in the coming years, added the minister. 

What has caused this pessimistic outburst from Lorenzin has been the news that 2014 saw fewer Italian babies born than in any other year since 1861 when the modern Italian state was formed. The Italian national statistics office ISTAT released figures last week showing that the number of live births last year was a touch over half a million (509,000) a number that was 5,000 fewer than 2013. 

Usually countries in the western world with low birth rates have relied on immigration to prop up their populations. This is true also of Italy which had over 300,000 immigrants arrive in 2013 according to Wiki. Worryingly, however, the immigration rate fell to its lowest level in five years in 2014. Furthermore, there is no differentiation between foreign born and native Italian women: both groups are having fewer babies. On a positive note: 

The mortality rate also declined last year, stretching life expectancy for Italian men to 80.2 years, and to 84.9 years for women.

However, overall this is bad news for Italy and for its economy, with rising pension payouts and healthcare costs as its population ages. This is true for many developed countries the world over:

…but Italy, mired in its third recession in six years, is particularly vulnerable.

The government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is scrambling to give the economy a boost by reforming the sclerotic labour market and persuading the country’s youth not to migrate and work abroad.

The fate of Italy, and Germany and Japan will be interesting to watch in the coming years as chronically low birth rates catch up to them. I haven’t heard the phrase Italy is “a dying country” take on yet, but if Italy’s birthrate doesn’t improve, then it might well do so.

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...