Since a couple of decades, Italy features one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. In a recent contribution to the Italian daily newspaper 'Domani', Anton Hemerijck and Johannes Karremans argue that Italy’s low birth rates are not only a demographic and social problem, but also pose a threat to the sustainability of its welfare state, as they entail a reduction in the long term in the number of taxpayers.
The recipe against this negative trend is to stimulate families to bear more children. In contemporary labour markets, this entails smoothing the potential hardships of parenthood, by allowing families to have both parents employed and thus to have a double source of income.
As Italy registers one of the lowest female employment rates in western Europe, facilitating the entry of women in the labour market is the main immediate challenge in the short term. The experience of northern European countries like Sweden, the Netherlands or more recently Germany, suggests that if the state assists families through the first years after child-birth, women are more inclined to take up jobs. This is done, for example, through generous parental leave policies in which both parents can afford to take time off from work for childcaring policies, or with investments in early child care facilities.
In their co-authored article, Sostenere le famiglie può salvare il nostro paese (paywalled), Hemerijck and Karremans argue that such investments would not only address some of Italy’s major demographic and social problems, but in the long term they would also improve the health of the country’s public finances.