Pope concerned about demographic winter


Southern Europe


The Pope at the families event in Italy. Photo AFP, Andrew Medichini

Pope Francis warns Italy and the rest of Europe for a demographic winter. The Roman Catholic leader says that “a society which does not welcome life, stops to live”.

The church leader spoke at a meeting of the Family Associations Forum on Friday. This event is a platform for pro-family organisations. The forum is seeking a national debate about provisions for families with children. Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, were also present.

Italian women have an average of 1,29 children. One-child families are the norm in the country. According to Eurostat-,1.53%20live%20births%20per%20woman%20in%20the%20EU%20in%202019,Population%20and%20population%20change%20statistics), the average European figure is 1,53, with Malta with 1,14 the lowest and 1,86 in France the highest.

The age of motherhood in Italy is 31,3 years. According to the Eurostat figures, that is the oldest in Europe. The youngest mothers, 26,3 years on average, live in Bulgaria.

Many countries in Western Europe are experiencing a slump in birth rates during the corona lockdown in 2020 and 2021. The full consequences of the pandemic are not clear yet.

Pope Francis was worried about Europe, he said. He spoke about the “old continent”, not because of its past glory, but because “of its advanced age”, he said. “Where is the treasure of our society? In children or finance”, the church leader asked. “A society which does not welcome life stops to live”, he concluded.

The situation in Italy is “no longer sustainable”, said Gigi De Palo, president of the Italian Family Associations Forum, the body that organised the event. In his country, having children is connected to poverty, he says. “The primary cause of poverty is job loss by one member of the family. The second is the birth of a child.”

Statistics from 2015 confirm that Italian families with two or more children have higher poverty rates than families with one child. De Palo thinks that not only money for families can help. The other problem is “the cultural climate that does not reward families with children.”

According to the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, the Pope spoke about a “demographic winter” in connection to a structural weakness of Italian society and an individualistic mentality. “The message that is spreading is that thriving is synonymous with making money and being successful, with children appearing almost as a barrier, which should not hamper everyone’s aspirations. This mentality is gangrene for society and makes the future unsustainable.”

He acknowledged the conflicting interests between work and family, especially for mothers. “I think with sadness of women who are discouraged by their work to have children, or who have to hide their bellies. How is it possible that a woman should be ashamed of the greatest gift life can give her? It’s not the woman but the company that should be ashamed.”

Also, on earlier occasions, the Pope expressed his concerns about the falling birth rates in the Western world. In March, he said to journalists that if the “demographic winter” stays in Italy, immigrants must come to work and pay for the pensions.

In an earlier report about the consequences of the low birth rate, La Croix found that it is not easy for policymakers to let fertility rise again. According to the Austrian demographer Wolfgang Lutz there is a “trap effect” below the two children per woman: the more the birth rate drops, the more difficult it is to rise.



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