Anxious over declining population, Italy pays citizens to procreate

While many environmentalists fret about overpopulation, Italians are fretting over the opposite. Despite the stereotype of its massive Catholic clans, Italy actually has one of the lowest birthrates in the world, a population set to shrink by a third by 2050, and the world’s highest percentage of population aged 65 or older (18.6 percent in 2003). The country wants babies. Badly. Last year, the Italian government offered a $1,300 one-time payment to couples who had a second child. The rural village of Laviano, fearful of disappearing altogether, is offering $14,000 for every tyke produced. Studies show, however, that while cash payments may accelerate breeding schedules, they don’t persuade tot-averse citizens to procreate. Some activists say what’s really needed is more public-policy support for working mothers. If serious steps aren’t taken, says Franca Biglio, mayor of Marsaglia (population 400), “Our bella Italia will become a deserted wilderness.”