The Italian Minister of Health, Beatrice Lorenzin, has sounded the alarm about something that we have known about for a long time. Italy’s population is declining. The latest statistics show the lowest recorded number of births per thousand since Italian unification, and the number dying each year is greater than the number being born. Could this be some sort of tipping point? The Minister thinks so, saying that Italy is now a “dying country”. Moreover, she says: “This situation has enormous implications for every sector: the economy, society, health, pensions, just to give a few examples.” Few could quarrel with that.
We have often been told in the past that the pressing problem we face is overpopulation. But here is someone who one imagines we can trust – a government minister, an elected representative of the people – telling us that population decline is the problem.
Why is Italy’s population declining? The Telegraph article linked to above points out that the depressed south of Italy has the lowest birth-rate, and therefore that economic stagnation is the cause. This must have some truth in it, but it was the case that in the south of Italy has never been booming in the last century or so, but was at least fecund. My guess is that there’s more to it than economics alone. The falling birth rate reflects a lack of confidence, but not just in the economy; a depression that goes beyond facts and figures: a depression of the collective soul.
It may seem a statement of the obvious, but there are fewer children around because people do not want to have children. The children they might have had have been aborted, or they never came to be in the first place because of contraception. Indeed, if you were to factor in all the aborted children, and to imagine for a moment they had lived, then Italy’s population would not be in decline. The invaluable Wikipedia tells us that in 2010 the abortion rate in Italy was 10 per 1000 women of childbearing age. If you look at this table, it seems that around 20 to 25% of all pregnancies in Italy end in abortion, though I am no mathematician, let alone a statistician.
So the minster’s words about the challenge posed by the declining birth rate can also be read as words about the challenge posed by the high abortion rate. And the same would be true, by extension, of contraception. The Telegraph article speaks of 40% of couples not having any children at all.
Unless this trend is reversed, Italy, as it presently exists, is doomed. Again, I am not a statistician, but I do know that trends never continue quite as you expect them to. Italy probably is not a dying nation, but whatever the future, its present is certainly problematic.
This article should not be taken as yet another example of a Catholic bemoaning abortion. I certainly disapprove, and strongly too, of abortion in all circumstances, as the Church teaches; but the question the Italian Minister of Health raises here has a wider application. If one were to set aside the morality of abortion for a moment, one could still see, whatever one’s views on abortion, that the practice makes very bad sense. When abortion was legalised, people could perhaps have claimed that the results would be at least not socially harmful. But now that we can see the results, now we see the long term effect of legalised abortion, what possible excuse can there be for not recognising it as the disaster it is?