Italian women would “like to have more [children], but the conditions just aren’t good enough,” laments one new mother as CBS News reports,official figures show that in 2014 there were fewer babies born in Italy than at any time since 1861. “Nowadays people don’t want to raise their child in poverty,” but Pope Francis had a different opinion, as The Guardian reported, “a society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society.

Chart: Bloomberg

Relative to Europe’s top-‘producing’ nation – Azerbaijan – and its 18.3 births per 1,000 inhabitants, He may well be right but the Italians are in ‘depressed’ company along with Portugal, Greece, and Spain at the lower end of the EU spectrum.

Chart: The Daily Mail

As CBS News adds, “Nowadays people don’t want to raise their child in poverty,” Francesca said. “They want a good level, a good standard of life for their kids.”

That’s true across most of the developed world. The birth rate in North America, Russia and Europe is already below the replacement rate of about two children per couple. And in Italy, a quarter of all women have no children at all.

That’s partly the fault of a system that gives women no support, says professor Elizabeth Addis, an expert in demographics and social policy. More than 50 percent of Italian women work outside the home, and yet there’s no affordable day care here, no school meals, and no after-school programs.

“In Italy, this virtuous process of building public services to help women, and to substitute for women’s traditional work, didn’t happen,” Addis said.

“A lot of Italian women are trapped,” said Palmer.

“Right. They will be trapped in a dependent situation in which they can only be housewives, and they don’t want to be housewives — they want to be free.”

It’s a crunch that threatens everyone’s standard of living. Reversing the trend will depend partly on a better economy, and more help for working mothers.

And, controversially, it also means welcoming more foreign migrants, including those smuggled into Italian waters every day, and who will join Italy’s immigrant community, with its economic ambitions and higher birth rate.

Conservatives fear those changes will dilute the traditions of a great culture, but the alternative is a weakened Italy out of step with the modern world.

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