Italy’s Population Decline: Causes & Consequences

1 min read
October 2, 2023

Italy’s population decline and aging in municipalities have developed distinct trends over the past five decades. A recent study (Demographic sustainability in Italian territories: The link between depopulation and population ageing by Cecilia Reynaud & Sara Miccoli) reveals intriguing patterns and correlations, suggesting that the two phenomena are intertwined in complex ways.

The Big Picture

From 1971 to 2019, Italy witnessed changing population growth patterns, migration, and aging. These shifts have profound implications for the nation’s economic, social, and infrastructural planning.

Italy’s Population Decline Decade by Decade

1971-1981: Depopulation was the defining trend.

  • 49% of municipalities saw population decline.
  • Rural and mountainous regions were hit hardest due to significant emigration to larger cities and, to a lesser extent, abroad.
  • Despite a national population growth of 0.6%, municipalities, especially those in remote areas, faced substantial declines.

1981-1991: Patterns persisted.

  • 48% of municipalities reported a decrease, much like the previous decade.
  • Emigration from rural areas continued
  • Movements from urban systems to their outskirts increase

1991-2001: A ray of hope.

  • Negative growth dropped to 46% of municipalities.
  • Immigrant influx, mainly in the Centre–North, played a crucial role.
  • The North-East saw rejuvenation, but mountainous or inner areas continued declining.

2001-2011: A mixed bag.

  • Depopulation went down to 40%.
  • Immigration was substantial up to 2008; after that, the economic downturn led to decreased flows.
  • Most immigrants chose to reside in the productive areas of the Centre–North.
  • South of Italy faced stronger depopulation patterns.

2011-2019: Italy’s population decline retakes center stage.

  • In this period, unlike in the past, there was no population growth.
  • Depopulation became widespread, even when viewed against national population decline.
  • The growth rate of the resident population turned negative, initiating a phase where municipal depopulation occurred alongside a national reduction.

Aging — A National Concern

  • The aging trend began in the north and spread nationally.
  • By 2019, even regions like southern Italy, which started the aging process later, were catching up fast.
  • Descriptive analysis showed a linear aging profile in municipalities during census years.

What they find

  • Pearson’s correlation between population growth and subsequent ageing was consistently negative throughout the periods studied.
  • This correlation was especially strong in the 2011-2019 period, suggesting that as the population decreased, ageing increased, and vice versa.
  • Higher levels of population growth were associated with lower levels of ageing.
  • There was also a notable correlation between the proportion of people aged 65+ years at the beginning of a period and the subsequent intercensal population growth rate.

Between the lines

The correlations hint at a deeply connected relationship between depopulation and ageing in Italy’s municipalities. However, other potentially influencing factors may also play a part in this relationship. With aging and depopulation showing such robust correlations, it’s essential to further explore and understand these trends to adequately plan for Italy’s future.

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