- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

ROME To have a big family, Giuseppi Moauro had to marry an American.
Between inky sips of espresso at a table outside his small restaurant in central Rome, Mr. Moauro, a father of four boys, laments this strange new reality.
"The Italian women, they don't want children," he says. "They say it's too expensive, it's a lot of work, it takes too much time."
The Italian women he knows put off having children until their financial, emotional and social stars are in perfect alignment and then they have only one baby. In a country once synonymous with images of big, passionate families, having one child is considered unusual, two rare and more nearly unheard of.
The Italian birthrate has fallen to less than 1.2 children per woman, about half the rate in the United States and the lowest in the industrialized world. Because the birthrate is now lower than the death rate, Italy's current pace of baby production isn't even replenishing the population.
Indeed, at this rate, Italy's population will fall by nearly a third in 50 years, from about 57 million to about 41 million.
Carmen Moauro, the American-born wife of the restaurant owner who wanted many children, is among those who are distressed about the trend. She regards it as a direct threat to the survival of the Italian culture.
"We're talking about the extinction of the Italian race," she says. "In 100 years, there won't be any Italians around anymore."
This is hyperbole, but just barely. If low birth and immigration rates persist, Italy's population would fall to 10 million by the end of the 21st century, according to government estimates. Among native-born Italians, the rate is probably less than one baby per woman possibly two women per baby in the wealthy north-central region.
In conversations with Italians, it becomes clear that children are decidedly unfashionable in this bastion of Mediterranean chic.
"Italians are very concerned about appearances. This is much more important for Italians than perhaps anybody else," says Antonio Faldudo, a stylish 38-year-old film director in Rome.
Mr. Faldudo's friends think children particularly more than one of the messy and noisy little creatures make an unflattering statement about status, implying the presence of pedestrian middle-class values. "They also mean you have to satisfy [children's] needs first, and this is something people these days are not wanting to do."
While less crowded streets and markets may appeal to throng-weary Italians, the trend has its downside.
For one thing, it threatens to destabilize the state pension system a hallowed institution in a country where people are just now learning to invest for retirement. In the 1950s, there were eight workers to support every retiree. Now there are four; soon there will be less than two.
Additionally, business and government leaders worry about the looming shortage of young workers in one of Europe's most vibrant economies. A recent study by Italian labor unions suggested that there won't be enough workers to fill a quarter of the 800,000 jobs expected to be created over the next two years.
And finally are the concerns although rarely expressed by Italians about the waning of a rich and distinct culture.
"It is a very serious matter with a lot of cultural and moral dimensions to it," says Massimo Cristaldi, a 43-year-old film producer and the son of famed producer Franco Cristaldi. "You must really be ready. You need to either have them when you are very young and don't know any better or when you have reached a certain place in your life that point where you have achieved some solid values and a philosophical framework that would allow you to have something to teach a son to be an example for a son."
A visitor remarks that if such a standard were a universal prerequisite to parenthood, human beings would have been extinct a few centuries ago.
"This is true, isn't it?" he says with a laugh. "The truth, the reason nobody is having children is an egoistic, sad thing: People don't want to make children because they don't want to share anything. They want to live their lives and that's all. The rest is an excuse."
Mr. Cristaldi believes many Italians have forgotten what it was to be part of a family. "Even the memory of the family doesn't exist any longer," he says.
Giacomina Cozzi remembers. "I had eight brothers," she says, smiling with pride. A housecleaner who lives in a spotless little apartment, she has two children: a 21-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.
"Our parents didn't worry the way we do," she says. "They just threw us into the world."
And in the old days, you never had to worry about who would care for you in the later years. "I will care for my parents," she said. "I hope there will be somebody to care for me.
"Maybe I'll just go to a home. We have a saying: 'If the eyes don't see, the heart doesn't bleed."'
She expects her 13-year-old son, Alendro, to live at home another 20 years before striking out on his own. "This is normal," she says.
Most Italian men 70 percent, according to one study reach the age of 30 while still living at home. Many reasons are given: the scarcity of suitable jobs; a shortage of affordable apartments; but mostly they seem to want to stay with their mothers, as 43 percent continue to live a half-mile from their mothers after leaving the nest, and 70 percent call home every day.
In addition to the predictable frustrations this causes Italian women, it isn't doing much for fertility rates.
Italian couples who do want children often wait until after they have passed their fertility primes, said Giacomo Menghini, a Rome obstetrician for nearly 40 years.
"In the '60s they were in their twenties," he said. "Now they are 35, 36 or older when they have their first child."
Consequently, his work has shifted from caring for young pregnant women to counseling older couples trying often without much success to have babies. For not well understood reasons, sperm counts of Italian men have dropped dramatically to about a third of what they were in the 1960s.
Moreover, even though 97 percent of Italians describe themselves as Roman Catholics, abortions and contraception are common, Dr. Menghini said.
Not surprisingly, babies are few and far between. "In the hospital where I work, we used to deliver 4,000 babies a year now we deliver 1,000," he said.
Despite Catholic Church teachings, 91 percent of Italian women use birth control, compared to 76 percent in the United States and 75 percent in France. To the alarm of priests, young couples are deleting references to the duty of having children from their wedding vows.
Pope John Paul II often has expressed alarm about what he called "the worrying demographic fall." In a February speech at the Vatican, he made a simple plea: "Italians: Make more babies."
But the message isn't getting through the clutter. "Obviously, the Italian nation has taken on the birth-control mentality," says Father Denis O'Brien, a priest at the Church of San Silvestro in Capite, an English-speaking ministry. "There is a culture of selfishness abroad in society today. People here have lost the sense of importance of self-sacrifice and generosity. I think people want to call the shots in their own lives and have an agenda not constricted by the constraints of family life."

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