The stereotyped image of the large and traditional Italian family, with more than five children, is just an old memory. In fact, in the last forty years the structure of the Italian family has dramatically changed from the traditional model we were used to see in the old movies. In the past, Italian families, especially those of the south, were made up of a lot of children and they were patriarchal units where woman usually didn’t work. After World War II, the evolution of the country from an agriculture system into an industrial system brought many changes to the culture, mentality, and habits of the Italian society and families have changed as a result. However, there still a small space for the traditional form of family in the modern system.
In the past, the Italian family was characterized by strong bonds and was based on mutual aid of all members. Family is between the first things that come to attention when many Italians and strangers think of what it means to be Italian. Researchers, popular journalists, and normal people have long distinguished a Catholic, Mediterranean family structure from the northern European model, obvious not simply by the size of the family, but also by the ties of the prolonged family and the spread of the family into unusually wide range of social activities. By all kinds of processes, Italian families are close. Adult relatives tend to stay in close closeness to one another and to see each other often. Young people naturally live with their parents into their 20s. The close link between Italian mothers and sons is a cultural axiom. The family breakfast time on Sunday is often viewed as inviolable. Family relations penetrate commercial and public life, and even major businesses are still family owned. Women were the base of the family. Their jobs were to work around the house such as cooking, washing, and taking care of the children. This custom has changed over time. According to Rossella Sigonoritti in her article Women in Corporate Boards in Itay: The Role of Family Connections, that the “Costs and benefits arising from quotas are difficult to identify. On the one hand, the increase of female representation induced by gender quotas may have potential positive effects as shown by the literature” (9). Being the mother and the wife at the same time is no longer tempting in Italian cultures.
In the late 1950s, when Italy, as elsewhere in Europe, the phase of the process known as the first demographic transition was taking place, the Italian version of the Multilingual Demographic Dictionary (IUSSP, 1959), in defining the family, stressed the model of an organization confidently founded on the bond between husband and wife that originates on marriage on one hand, and the relationship between parent and their children on the other. Many things have reformed since then, in Italy as in the rest of Europe, not only in computable terms (growth of numbers and drop in size of family) but also with respect to the various types of family structures. The traditional model of family, based on marriage and usually aimed at procreation, has lost its role of uniqueness in Italian society. According to Luciano Mario in his article The family in Italy: Cultural changes and implications for treatment, he points out that the:
Major demographic changes in Italian families include, 1) a decrease in the number of marriages, delays in getting married and an high number of civil ceremonies, 2) a reduced birth rate; Italy is becoming one of the European countries with lowest growth rate, and with an increasing number of births out of wedlock, 3) an increased marital instability, with a constantly growing number of legal separations. (1)
The so-called new families appeared in Italy as one thread of a change that interested many other European countries before and that found its interpretive paradigm in what has been called the second demographic transition (SDT).
The old image of the outsized Italian family is at odds with the demographic facts of modern Italy. The number of marriages per year in Italy has been declining significantly for decades, while the number of separations and divorces have increased. Currently, there is about one divorce each year per four marriages. The average age at the first wedding is 34 for males and 31 for females, the fourth oldest age in Europe.
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The normal Italian family today is made up of one or two children. Typically, due to different cultural notions of lifestyle and values, families in the South will more children than those of the North of the country, often more than two. Studies and data carried out by ISTAT (Italy’s National Statistics Institute) show that there has been huge decrease in the number of average members per family. This is due to some significant factors: a drop in the number of new births (which has led to an increase in the number of couples without children); a decline in the number of weddings; and rise in the number of single-parent families. Moreover, another form of family is now common all over Italy, the so-called reconstituted family, where a member of the family is a traveler or lives for some period in other parts of the republic because of work. All this donates to a re-conceptualization of the roles that the persons .play in different stages of life, both inside and outside their families.
This social revolution in the types of family models reformed the role of the women in the society. The social revolution resulted in more women being independent and focused on their careers. In addition, as a result of this change, the concept of the family unit itself has changed from a hierarchal model, to one of more fairness within the family itself. This has resulted in new types of families: family made up of singles, couples (not married), and couples without children, and single-parent families. The surge in the number of singles equals 24.1%, whereas that of couple without children equals 18.4%, while the number of couples with children 37.9% and big families 5.7% is decreasing. These data have been influenced by an important causes: sons leave home earlier compared to the rate in the past.
The most common causes people choose to marry later or not to marry at all are education and costs linked to joining university, absence of economic freedom, and lack of a stable job. In Italy, those who go to college are not, on average, economically independent, so with no third party. Additionally, today Italian have trouble finding a steady job and they do not want to build a family without having economic solidity. All this have produced a delay in the age of reproduction too; in fact, Italian women regularly have their first child at 31.1 years old. Furthermore, there is a significant increase in the number of families made up of a single parent; they sum to two millions, 84.6% of which are run by women. Moreover, it is unexpected to know that the Italian women normally get more of an education than the men.
From all these data it appears that it is impossible to categorize the Italian family under a single category any longer. Next to the outdated model of family, which has conquered for ages, there now exist new models of families that express the economic and social changes Italy has gone through in its recent history. As the world and the rules continue to change, the family structures are likely to change with them, and new forms of families will continue to emerge.