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The Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) has recently published provisional data giving an overview of demographic statistics for 2020 — and they paint a bleak picture for the sustainability of the Italian populace. Although the reports are based on partial figures, the institute acknowledges that they provide grounds for consternation, as the coronavirus pandemic might have irreversibly set Italy on a pathway to extinction.
A considerable reduction in the official number of residents is but the tip of the iceberg: In January 2021, Italy's population registered a decline of nearly 385,000 people, a decrease akin to the disappearance of the entire city of Florence. The pandemic has also affected the already record-low Italian birth rate, which dropped in 2020 to the lowest number of births in the history of the Italian republic — just a little over 400,000, a minimum threshold that serves as a reference for ISTAT's most pessimistic predictions.
In fact, in one of the institute's recent reports, the president of ISTAT, Gian Carlo Blangiardo, stated that "reaching the symbolic bottom threshold of 400,000 annual births would only have happened in 2032, based on our most pessimistic hypothesis." He also pointed out that unless there's a surge in "unexpected and improbable" pronatalist policies, rising from the 400,000-birth floor "will hardly be possible." He added, "In reality, the fear is that the numbers will collapse even lower in the final balance of 2021."
In a separate official report from the Italian government about the demographic impact of COVID-19, the consequences of the 2020 health crisis were described as leading to a "downwards adjustment," with the government lamenting that Italy may be "heading thus to the irreparable aggravation of demographic imbalances which are incompatible with the solid development of [the] country."
A steep decline in fertility rates has always been directly linked to a decline in marriages. Between January 2020 and October 2020, around 85,000 marriages took place in Italy, against 170,000 during the same period in 2019, a striking loss of 50.3%. For the same period in 2018, marriages had totaled 182,000.
The damage is even more acute if we take into account the number of religious marriages. Indeed, these have seen a drop of almost 70% when compared with the first 10 months of 2019. Another ISTAT document estimating figures from the second semester of 2020 revealed that the total number of marriages celebrated in Italy between July and December was 34,059, and a scant 4,141 of them were religious. In the second semester of 2019, 101,461 marriages were officiated, of which 47,025 were religious. From comprising almost half of the ceremonies to representing a mere 12% represents an incredible slump, even taking into account 2020's unfavorable and exceptional circumstances.
Catholic economist and banker Ettore Gotti Tedeschi (known for being the former president of the Vatican Bank under Pope Benedict XVI) has shared his concerns about the extreme acceleration of the trend of disappearance of religious marriage: "We must recognize the gravity of the phenomenon and its consequences, not only regarding the formation of families, but also the problem of ensuing births, which we'll only fully understand in the years to come." A fierce critic of Malthusian theory, Tedeschi has been studying the problem of decreasing birth rates and its impacts on the economic and financial cycles since the 1980s. During the course of his participation in a series of conferences promoted by ISTAT to discuss 2020's preliminary figures, Tedeschi reflected aloud:
Is this the effect of having closed churches but open town halls? Is this due to waiting for better times in order to have a religious marriage? Is this the effect of the demoralization of the value of the sacrament of marriage? It'll be interesting to eventually read the comments of the [so-called] "experts" in a debate.
The downfall of religious marriage has been thoroughly discussed by statistics expert Roberto Volpi, a specialist in demographics and author of the 2007 book The End of the Family. In 2018, Volpi wrote an article proclaiming the "extinction" of the Italian population based on the 2017 marriage figures. In 2017, the total number of marriages in Italy had already hit a historical low (with the nation seeing 30% fewer marriages than the European average) — and, for Volpi, these numbers indicated "the measure of how the ghost of disappearance is impending over Italy, as the end of marriage drags ... the entire society with it."
Because 70% of births in Italy still happen inside marriage and first-married young, fertile couples are more prone to choose the religious option, Volpi argues that, demographically speaking, the disappearance of sacramental marriage "is cause for much worry, more than anything else. ... Italy is literally destined to extinction."
Volpi delivered extensive remarks on the gravity of the crisis:
Here's a reminder for those who still don't understand it: The collapse of marriage in Italy, a negative world record, is followed by the continuous decrease in the number of births. ... High marriage rates have marked the reconstruction years [after the Second World War], the economic-miracle years, the years of entrepreneurship, of Italian confidence in the future. ... Marriages indicate how sound or how ill we are. Currently we're more or less in a terminal state. It really wouldn't hurt if the Church, the first one to pay for the consequences in this matter, understood this and actually took action about it.
As previously reported by Church Militant, ISTAT's official numbers revealed that, in 2018, civil marriages outnumbered their sacramental analogues for the very first time. It was also the first time that non-churchgoers outnumbered churchgoers, showing that 2018 marked a historic turning point in religious life in Italy. According to a 2016 prediction, civil marriages would have surpassed religious marriages only in 2020, and the same survey also forecasted 2031 as "year zero" — the point at which no religious marriage will take place in Italy, if the trend isn't reversed. At the time of the study, the tendency registered an average drop of 6,400 religious marriages per year –– seven times less than the loss registered in the second semester of 2020 alone.
As pinpointed by Avvenire, the Italian bishops' conference newspaper, "All the pandemic has really done was to drastically accelerate a trend consolidated in the last decades. ... And those who should've intervened haven't done it."