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Inside the town with no children as island faces population halving by 2050
October 29, 2023
A deepening demographic crisis has Sardinia, Italy, at the forefront of an alarming trend, as birthrates plummeted to a staggering 0.95 births per woman, the lowest in Italy, significantly below the 2-birth per woman threshold necessary for population sustainability.
The island faces an ominous prospect: if current trends persist, its population of 1.6 million could be halved by 2050.
Francesco Gaudio, an expert at Italy’s national statistics agency, Istat, has sounded the alarm, saying: “The south of Italy needs to be watched because it is a laboratory for what could happen next across Italy and in Europe.”
The demographic turmoil is not confined to Sardinia alone. Italy as a whole grapples with a declining fertility rate, plummeting to 1.22 this year, according to recent Istat data, down from 1.25 in 2021. Spain stands as the sole major European nation with a lower birth rate, at 1.19, according to Eurostat data.
Italy recorded a record low of 393,000 newborns last year, a stark contrast to over a million births in 1964. In stark contrast, England and Wales report a more promising fertility rate of 1.55 in 2021, according to the most recent ONS data.
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In response to this alarming crisis, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has made increasing the birthrate a central government policy, earmarking one billion euros in her annual budget to fund tax relief for mothers and incentives for employers to hire them. “Children and babies are life and hope, like the seeds you plant to grow a forest,” she passionately declared in June.
However, a recent statistic paints a bleak picture for the southern regions of Italy, especially Sardinia. Istat’s revelation this month indicates that due to decades of declining births, the number of individuals aged 18-34, the prime childbearing age group, has diminished by a significant 40 per cent in Sardinia over the past two decades.
This demographic decline casts a chilling shadow over towns like Oristano, a place rich in history dating back to the Middle Ages, boasting a 12th-century cathedral and a unique Sardinian dialect. Oristano’s proximity to Is Arutas, a renowned pink sand beach with crystal-clear waters, attracts visitors from all over Europe.
The haunting absence of youthful vibrancy reverberates throughout the small towns of southern Italy, which have seen a loss of three million individuals aged 18-34 over the past two decades. This trend extends to the entire European Union, where 16.6 million people in the same age group have disappeared during the same period.
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In the rugged hinterland of Sardinia, numerous villages teeter on the edge of extinction, exemplified by the minuscule community of Semestene, which is on the brink of vanishing within a decade. Its population has dwindled from 700 in the 1950s to a mere 129 today, with the most recent birth recorded eight years ago.
Emigration from the “mezzogiorno” (the southern Italian regions, including Sicily and Sardinia) coupled with declining birth rates continues to exacerbate the population decline. In 2020, a total of 34,500 individuals left this region in search of opportunities elsewhere.
In her endeavour to address this critical demographic crisis, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni joined forces with the Pope at a May conference, both donned in white, urging Italians to procreate. Nevertheless, critics have expressed concern over Meloni’s hard-right ideology infiltrating the discussion. She has taken aim at television programs for not promoting the traditional family unit, which she considers a cornerstone of Italy’s traditions and identity. According to her, any effort to undermine the family structure is part of a conspiracy to erode Italians’ identity.
While she has generally maintained a low profile on this issue since taking office last year, she resurfaced at a September birth-rate conference in Budapest, saying: “Without that identity, we are only numbers, unconscious numbers, tools in the hands of those who want to use us.”