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Ageing Italy hands bonus for babies

Laviano (Italy), Dec. 1 (Reuters): Christmas this year will be extra special for Antonietta Molinaro. Not only is she about to give birth but she’s also in line for a hefty “baby bonus” from the local mayor.

Perched high in the Apennine hills southeast of Naples, Laviano is edging towards extinction as poor road links and a lack of jobs push the young away in search of a new life.

Last year there were just four new mothers in a population of 1,600. That compares with 70 babies born in 1970, when Laviano had around 3,000 residents.

In a bid to reverse the trend, mayor Rocco Falivena is digging deep into town coffers and offering couples 10,000 euros ($11,900) for every new-born baby.

“It’s a lot of money, but this is our top priority,” said Falivena. “We are talking about the very survival of our town.”

Laviano is not alone in its fight for life. Scores of towns the length of southern Italy are dying out.

Between 1991 and 2001 the south had a net migration loss of more than half a million people, while the more prosperous northeast gained some 460,000, according to the latest Demotrends report from Italian demographic research body IRPPS.

But wherever Italians may choose to live, the birth rate across the country is near rock bottom and the traditional stereotype of the Italian mamma and her squadrons of bambini could not be further from the truth. Most Italian women say they want at least two children, but on average have just 1.2, the August Demotrends report said. That’s well below the 1.7 to 1.9 fertility rates of France, Britain and the US.

Giuseppe Gesano, Demotrends editor, blames inertia within Italian society to adapt to the increasing number of women who study and work. “The desire for children is still there, but because of practical and economic obstacles couples put it off until either it’s too late or they just have time for one child,” he said.

Unlike France and Britain, Italy has so far failed to foster a recovery of its fertility rate. Family allowances are minimal, creches costly and the chances of reconciling work and child raising hard to realise.

IRPPS’s Antonio Golini also pointed to the failure of Italian men to take on an equal share of family tasks. “The most recent surveys have shown the importance of... a widespread counter-culture that considers children to be specifically the private “good” of women,” he wrote.

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