A new study from a respected Italian research institute finds that religious marriages in one of the world’s most Catholic nations are in “free-fall,” and based on trends over the last twenty years, projects that by 2031 there won’t be a single religious marriage in the country.
Pope Francis has made family life and marriage a keen priority, and if he ever needed proof of the urgency of the cause even in his own backyard, a widely respected Italian research group has provided it: According to its recent projection, by the year 2031 absolutely no one in Italy will be married in church.
Censis (“Center for Social Investment Studies”) has a quasi-official status in Italy, with its analysis often relied upon by the government in forming policy decisions. In a recent study on marriage in Italy, based on trends over the last 20 years, it found that the number of Italians entering into formal marriages has been in freefall.
In 1994, according to its data, there were 291,607 marriages in Italy, a country of 60 million people where Catholics still account, formally speaking, for 95 percent of the population. By 2014, the number of marriages had fallen to 189,765, a drop of 35 percent.
Moreover, the share of marriages registered only civilly as opposed to celebrated in a church has been shifting dramatically, with a drop of 54 percent in the number of Catholic marriages between 1994 and 2014.
In terms of raw numbers, there were 235,936 marriages celebrated in a church in Italy in 1994, 171,900 in 2004, and 108,000 in 1994.
According to the Censis projections, by the year 2020 there will be more civil marriages in Italy than religious, as the overall number of marriages continues to drop.
Looking out even further, the Censis data suggests that if nothing happens to alter the demographic landscape, 2031 – meaning 15 years from now – will be the first year in which there isn’t a single Catholic marriage celebrated in one of the world’s most Catholic nations.
The projection is based on subtracting 6,400 religious marriages per year, which has been the experience of the last two decades, until the total reaches zero.
According to the Censis report, recent legislative changes in Italy have encouraged these trends, including the fact that children born outside of marriage are now recognized as equally legitimate as those born to married couples, and also the civil recognition of de facto couples in addition to those who are married.
Massimiliano Valerii, director of Censis, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that “we projected forward the tendencies of the last twenty years, and the future scenario of that is an Italy with zero religious marriage.”
“It’s a dissolution of this institution,” Valerii said, “because by now the crisis is global, and it regards both civil rites, which have stopped growing, and in particular those of the church, which are in free-fall.”
Some demographers in il bel paese, however, demur from the Censis conclusions.
Gian Carlo Blangiardo, who teaches in the Department of Statistics and Quantitative Methods at the University of Studies in Milan, said that social change is always unpredictable, and therefore one can’t simply assume that trends over the last 20 years will continue in a straight-line fashion.
Blangiardo also noted that despite the cultural mutations of the last two decades, seventy percent of Italian children are still born to married couples, indicating that the ideal of marriage and family life still have a hold on the Italian imagination.
In his recent document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis decries the modern tendency to spurn marriage.
While committing oneself exclusively and definitively to another person “always involves a risk and a bold gamble,” the pontiff wrote, unwillingness to make such a commitment “is selfish, calculating and petty” because it “fails to recognize the rights of another person and to present him or her to society as someone worthy of unconditional love.”