Families are going through some deep changes that are worth questioning. For example, did you know that in Italy couples with children are now a minority and account for only 33% of all families? Or that in these families there are very few mothers under 34 years of age? Did you know that almost 60% of Italian households have just 1 or 2 members? Families are becoming smaller and smaller, they are turning into micro-families. Compared to 10 years ago, the transformation is striking.
Here is the picture: singles grew by 5.5 percentage points, reaching 8 million; couples with children decreased by 6 points, single parent households are growing while more young people decide to stay in their families of origin. Families are more and more diverse. There are fewer married couples, but more unmarried couples – 1 million 200 thousand – they have doubled in 10 years. Italy has more single mothers but also more single fathers, 500 thousand, there are fewer couples with children and fewer children per couple, with a greater presence of single-children. While the number of civil unions is growing for same-sex couples.
Families have taken up new profiles, people have developed new strategies, but to which extent are these strategies the result of individuals’ choices? Less and less. Today, the right to choose one’s own life path is at stake.
Think about it, how can young people leave their family nest if the employment rate of those aged between 25 and 34 has lost 9 points? How can young people have children if their future continues to be so uncertain? Too little has been done to enable young people to build an independent life. Too little has been done to remove the negative social climate surrounding motherhood and fatherhood that has been dominant in our country since long before the last recession. A bad climate resulting from a poor supply of social services for children, from an extremely rigid work organization, especially in the private sector, from part-time job offers that grow only for women who do not want it, and not for those who would benefit from it, from the stunning number of unpaid work that is still overwhelming for most women and, last but not least, for that “gap” in couples that is reducing far too slowly. Ours is a country suffering from permanent, chronic, low fertility – where even immigrants tend to adopt our reproductive models quickly. Yet, we cannot shed crocodile tears, we cannot complain that today’s families have fewer children, by putting our conscience in place with partial and temporary measures. Let’s face it, let’s just say it: something had to be done earlier and had to be done in systematic way. The prolonged decline in births, together with the increase of aging population, which nobody seemed interested in – despite the warnings of demographics and sociologists – has led to a permanent change in the structure of our families that will be difficult to convert. We must recreate an encouraging social climate for motherhood and fatherhood, removing all the obstacles that prevent us from turning desires into reality.
We must put everyone in a position to live as they wish, with children, without children, in civil union, as single mothers, or in any other way. By choice, and not because they are forced to. What will a family with such a low number of components mean for our welfare system? Will the vulnerability of people living in small families increase? Will women and families’ care-network be up to the challenge of today’s needs? We are already struggling now, it will be even more difficult in the future because families will grow in number, with many not self-sufficient elderly, and unlike before, those who give help will no longer be able to provide the same kind of care in such a fragmented situation. If this is the diagnosis, we shall not postpone any longer the treatment. Soon, Grandmothers will not be enough to solve the problems. And if we do not want to soak in loneliness and marginalization, we must, once and for all, start to act now, and reform the welfare system, involving civil society – all of it – It’s crucial.