In 2016, ICHFSB had approved a prize of $500 for the best student(s) of the UCSB class Italian 161 AX, The European Union. This class, taught in English, is part of the classes Italian majors and minors can take in order to graduate. It is a class listed at UCSB’s French and Italian Department. The faculty teaching it was Professor Valentina Padula.
After a strict selection of the papers submitted by the 9 students competing for the prize, two students were selected. They shared the prize equally.
They were: Daniela Capone and Alicia Carducci.
The title of Daniela’s paper was: Conjunction with Europe. In this paper Daniela analyzes Italy’s history in the last two centuries with insight and clarity. This essay focuses on the reasons why Italy voted to join the European Union first and the Euro zone second. As a conclusion, Daniela tells us that in her opinion, the participation in the European Project has actually strengthened Italy, in spite of present-day popular doubts.
Alicia’s paper was equally interesting. Entitled Italy and the Decline of Female Fertility Rates, is an analysis of why Italy has such an abysmal birth rate. She suggests that this situation is not because Italian women are against motherhood but it is instead a response to Italian economic insecurity and socio-cultural factors such as Italy’s rigid labor market and lack of institutional support for new mothers. So, women choose to have only one child and bypass the possibility of having a second or a third child.
AND NOW THE ESSAYS:
DANIELA CAPONE’S ESSAY:
Italy in Conjunction with Europe
It is often said that the purpose of studying history is to hinder its repetition in future society. While this can prove to be an optimistic strategy, it is first necessary to analyze how the past has brought a certain civilization, people, or nation to its current status before one can begin to project future strategies. In the study of Italy as an actor in the European Union, it is first essential to analyze the history of Italy and how it has come to align itself with the ideals expressed by EU institutions.
Primarily, one must ask what role Italy has played in the grand scheme of European identity. In doing so, one will notice that the Italian struggle for a definition of national identity makes for an even more complicated understanding of its place within a European identity. The initial fascination with Italy as a finale to the Grand Tour clearly demonstrates the assigned function of Italy as the “beauty” of Europe. This provides little confidence or conviction in assigning major political roles to the nation, as well as inflicting a sense of self-apprehension in Italy’s own political atmosphere. While many would argue that this timidity was overturned by the fascist regime of Mussolini, it is clear that this faux-confidence was not long lasting or significant in the long-term political struggle that has overwhelmed Italy throughout recent decades.
Upon the analysis of history, one must then apply these findings to the status of Italy within the European Union. While Italy was a founding member and continuously showed strong support for the EU in its early stages, it is necessary to question what seems to be a sense of euroskepticism in current Italian public opinion. Why has Italy’s loyalty and dedication to the integration of Europe faded so pungently throughout the nation in recent years? In doing so one finds that, as a result of its unsure political past, Italy has not developed a negative position on membership of the European Union; however, the nation has an exceedingly incredulous outlook on politics as a whole. Therefore, the nation cannot rightfully accept its place within a strong and politically power-driven Europe, yet it can be further argued that perhaps there is no need for Italy to do so.
History: Italy in the Eyes of Europe
The Grand Tour took place between the late 17th to early 19th centuries CE. It was a journey that European elites took from England to Naples, usually stopping in Paris and few other significant European cities. This journey served as education for the elite European youths and was seen as their pass into adulthood. Writers, such as Charles Dickens and Goethe went on the Grand Tour and produced travel narratives such as Pictures from Italy and Travels in Italy. The influx of tourists to Italy allowed for an array of depictions of the nation, in which northern Europeans dominated the discourse.
The Grand Tour was, especially, made famous by Sir William Hamilton and his wife Lady Hamilton in the late 18th century CE. Lady Hamilton was said to have “gone native” because she immersed herself into the culture of Naples. “Europeans were fascinated by southern Italian people who to many visitors appeared to embody a different human type,” said Tommasso Astarita, a noted scholar in the area of Italian History (Astarita 221). This is why the immersion of Lady Hamilton into this new “human type” was seen as incongruous in the minds of the enlightenment-thinkers and other elites of Europe. This new type proved to assign gender to Italy as feminine because it was a place that women could relate to and go to find themselves; therefore, Italy was rendered a superfluous region for educated men of the time to visit. This is significant in terms of Italy’s relationship with the entirety of Europe because Italy, as a whole, would now be labeled feminine, and furthermore, weak.
This ideology was, later, strongly contested by the fascist regime. The idea of a Fascist
Mediterranean brings to mind many changes in culture as well as reception by the rest of Europe. In enacting this culture change, the fascists refused to adhere to one style or another. They aspired to the fusion and inclusion of many different styles by adopting the aesthetics of futurism, as well as cubism, and other movements of the time— all the while, they refused to define themselves by a certain style (Falasca-Zamponi). This was key because although the fascist regime portrayed a strong united front, it was clear that there was some confusion in the objectives that the nation as a whole was working towards. Nevertheless, the goal of the fascists was to strengthen Italy as an international actor by providing a more effeminate or weaker people for Europeans to focus on. An extreme example of this can be seen in the interactions with African nations, such as Libya, as Italy had colonized them, only 10 years prior. Italian politicians on international stages would depict the Africans as “other,” rendering themselves higher on the social ladder.
EU Membership: Italy at the Hands of Europe
While the conclusion of World War II brought about an overall desire for European integration and all of the complications that this movement would entail, it also instigated the manifestation of severe political unrest in Italy. The fall of the fascist regime, along with ties with Nazi Germany, did not allow for strength or positive reception of Italy throughout Europe. In order to combat these notions, however, Italy became a main supporter of European integration, beginning with the European Economic Community. Italy had much to gain from the resources that the rest of Europe could provide for its lack-luster industrial strength, as well as for a reconstruction from the struggling post-wartime economy. Sonia Lucarelli summarizes this precisely in saying, “far from being exclusively a material and economic problem, the postwar reconstruction of the country was a fundamental moment of reflection over what Italy was and stood for in the newly defined international order: it was a question of identity” (Lucarelli 47). Therefore, not only was Italy intent on improving the conditions of the nation itself, but further creating an international platform from which to advocate for itself on a world-wide stage.
As a result of this deep desire to affect change, one would presume that Italy would be eager to implement changes prescribed by the EU, such as the implementation of a single currency, the Euro. While public opinion strongly favored the idea, presented in a 74% vote in favor (higher than that of France, Germany, or the EU average), there were unfortunate political strategies that would later skew this opinion (Lucarelli 48). Moreover, following the Maastricht Treaty, the Italian government, “declined not only to emphasize the importance of this event, but also to exert any control on the effective exchange rate between the lira and euro” (Lucarelli 52). The reasons for this seem to be a combination of the confused political party system that ran Italy at the time, as well as an encroaching fear of the government that the public had become too fond of a centralized European government. The drastic change from a lack of Italian identity to citizens, throughout the 1990s, identifying as Italo-Europeans was overwhelmingly detrimental to the goal of Italy as an international actor.
Many Italian politicians used the implementation of the euro to inject the Italian public with a newfound euroskepticism. The integration that followed the introduction the single market was brought very close to the citizens of Member States after the enactment of the single currency. In 2002, choosing to take a passive role in the establishment of exchange rates, the Italian government allowed for storeowners to inflate prices with the scapegoat of the new single currency. This instilled anger in the people of Italy because this new single currency that they had voted in favor of was not providing them with the economic stability or support that was anticipated. It is imperative, however, to understand that while one may wish to blame the Italian government for this euroskepticism, the European Union had not taken an active role in regulating the implementation of the Euro after it had proposed it as a grand solution to the growing economic issues throughout Europe.
Upon the discovery of Italy’s passive stance on the euro, Europe re-established the notion of Italy as weak, described by Lucarelli in saying that there was, “a reinforced image of a ‘Cinderella Italy’ that needed an internal clearance and an external controller” (Lucarelli 48). Finally, the relevance of this statement must be questioned in terms of the goals of Europe versus the goals of Italy. While the EU plans to integrate Europe economically, politically, and socially, Italy, in joining the EU, was attempting to rebuild a nation that had been fraught with economic crisis due to political unrest. Consequently, one may understand that the refusal of Italy abide by each guideline presented in Maastricht was not to undermine the EU; but, the government intended to strengthen Italy by providing economic competition and stimulation on the basis of the European single currency.
This contemporary goal can be argued further upon the acknowledgment of public opinion surrounding Italian politics circa 2009-2010. It is clear that while there was not a widespread appreciation for the existing integration process, Italy had gained much from the existence of the EU and the resources that it could bring to aid in the prosperity of the nation as a whole (Lucarelli 53). Furthermore, there is no need to question the membership of Italy in the EU, as in the case of the UK, because the public exhibits a “soft-skepticism” which simply provides for a distinction between Europeanism and the Italian identity. This is clear in the campaign of Italy’s current Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi. Lucarelli says of Renzi that he and other officials portray a campaign for “a proud Europeanist Italy eager to set things straight in order to be able to make its voice heard in a united Europe” (Lucarelli 56). Notice, however, that while Renzi is in favor of Europeanist ideals, there is an emphasis on Italy, independently, as a strong player in international affairs.
Further Implications: Italy in Conjunction with Europe
While it is imperative to understand the confusion that encompassed Italy over the years, one can also notice an attempt to impose a notion of multi-versality, as opposed to universality throughout its public sphere. By this, it is meant that nations should not be defined by their ability to be like other, wealthier, modern nations, but should be praised for their own unique characteristics. Franco Cassano, an Italian sociologist and politician, summarizes this idea in saying, “the Mediterranean has long been regarded as a sea of the past. It is in fact a central place of contemporary history – a place in which the north and the west meet the east and the south of the world, and a model for understanding how multiple faiths, cultures and economies can coexist peacefully” (Cassano 1). In saying this it can be understood that the emphasis that Cassano places on coexisting and peace is a call to action for other nations to perhaps admire the Mediterranean for this ability and realize that Italy, with it’s picturesque scenery and puzzling inhabitants, is not incapable of political success. Quite contrarily, Italy stands as a societal framework that is to be looked upon as a fusion of cultures and an acceptance of diversity.
With many condemnatory opinions of Italy throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries, one must question how the Italians could ever conjure up a united national identity, let alone act on an international stage with some of the world strongest nations. It is clearly evident that its participation in the European Union has strengthened Italy’s ability to make governmental decisions that would affect the entirety of the nation, as well as strive towards common agreement on what is best for the public. While clearly not all aspects of Italian politics have been addressed here, the understanding of Italy’s reaction to the EU’s proposition and implementation of a single currency is a clear depiction of the strength that is growing within the nation itself, as well as within Europe. Nations such as France and Germany wish to solve worldwide issues with European integration; however, one must acknowledge the efforts of Italy in self-preservation. This is especially the case in terms of the analysis of its wide array of cultural acceptance and growing diversity, which is arguably lacking in nations that pride themselves on their roles, such as: America’s “Greatness,” France as a “global superpower,” or other European nations claiming that their success is a product of “integration,” while social unrest runs rampant among their citizens.
ALICIA CARDUCCI’s ESSAY
Italy and the Decline of Female Fertility Rate
In this paper I will examine the factors that have contributed to Italy’s lowest-low fertility rates and suggest solutions to spur population growth. This topic is and increasingly relevant concern of politicians and scholars, particularly over the last thirty years. Fertility rates are falling in many European countries and Italy has one of the lowest. The total fertility rate (TFR) explains “the average number of children a woman will have over the course of her lifetime” (Krause & Marchesi, 351). Italy’s low levels of fertility are not because women stopped having children entirely, but that they are having fewer total children overall (Fiori, 580). The difference is largely in the decision whether or not to have a second child. Northern and Central Italy have been known for their low fertility, but since the 1990s this “only-child model” has spread to the South (Fiori, 581). This raises the questions: what determines whether Italian women will have a (second) child and what can be done to promote sustainable levels of fertility?
During the 1970s there was a downward shift in total fertility rates in many European countries as women entered the workforce in and began postponing childbearing. This was attributed to increased access to education, changing notions of family formation, and a cultural shift in gender roles for women (Modena et al., 2). In the 1980s and 90s the decline was credited to the tenuous economic situation, in which excess children were an unsupportable expense. While this economic situation improved in the early 2000s, fertility rates fell again following the global economy crisis. Italy’s total fertility rate has fallen from 2.37 births per woman in 1960 to 1.37 in 2014 (Eurostat). I argue that economic stability and gender dynamics have the greatest significance in determining family size. These unsustainable figures have sparked government concern, leading to struggles “to exercise control over reproduction” (Krause & Marchesi, 353). Italy is just one country in Europe that faces this problem. Discussions about Italy’s falling fertility rate have become increasingly linked to discourse about the nation’s future.
Economic stability is a determinate factor in having a child. A family’s income, housing status, efficacy of local welfare system, and quality of familial support system determine this stability. Wealth insecurity is a major factor in women’s decision to have children (Modena et al, 19). Higher wealth insecurity indirectly correlates with fertility intentions (14). Modena et al.’s study did not find this factor affect rate of first births but did see it “negatively affect successive pregnancies” (18). Wealth insecurity affects family decisions to have a second child more so than the first. This can be attributed to the attention Italian parents—especially the mothers—pay to their children’s upbringing; this is related to the modern notion of a strong family that is small but well provided for (Krause & Marchesi, 353). There is a widely acknowledged income effect—couples earning less are less likely to plan on a second child (Fiori, 588). This new development of low fertility contrasts the Malthusian model of “high birth rates and low levels of human capital.” Instead, it emphasizes a low fertility to maximize capital benefits for one child (Becker et al, 325). This shift emphasized the single child. Similar rates of women are still having children but they are doing so later in life and less.
In Italy, uncertain finances encourage residents to postpone or entirely forgo having children, which decreases the country’s fertility rate. The question of how to properly provide for multiple children is an issue of concern for parents. Vignoli et al. found that in Italy housing is a crucial marker for economic stability. There is a positive correlation between “the fertility intentions of couples and the degree to which they feel secure about their housing situation” (68). A quality housing situation is dependent on factors including “the geographical area of residence, the housing tenure, the degree of economic security and the number of rooms” (68). Vignoli et al. found women who were confident in their housing status to be significantly more likely to plan on having a child within the next three years than those who were not (66). Italy’s housing situation is unique, in part, due to the late average age of first purchase of a home that comes from children sharing residence with their parents into their thirties. This familial support system can be beneficial in child raising, but living with one’s family can delay starting a family and decrease the overall fertility rate.
Women’s fertility is linked to their participation in the labor force (Del Boca et al, 52). Since the 1990s, female employment in Italy rose “from 35.4% in 1994 to 47.2% in 2008” (compared to EU average of 59.1%) (Modena et al, 2). Meanwhile, fertility levels have hovered between 1.3 and 1.4 children per woman (compared to EU average of 1.6) (2). However, while women entered the labor force in new numbers, they held tenuous positions “characterized by low levels of maternal and sick leave protection, clearly penalizing women and discouraging them from having children” (18). Women face structural challenges to balancing both employment and childcare. Modena et al found “precariously employed” women have lower fertility expectancy (13). They are more likely to be pressured to not have children or to leave the career to fulfill their domestic responsibilities and take care of the home and family. The greater the uncertainty surrounding job security the lower estimated fertility. Women must often choose between pursuing their careers and having children. The job market is highly competitive and Italy is affected by high rates of unemployment. For this reason, women struggle with the decision to postpone their careers “during childbearing years, finding it difficult to re-enter the labor market” (Del Boca et al., 54). Job instability discourages having children, from a labor opportunity standpoint. Since part-time work is difficult to find, this forces many women to choose between their careers and their families. Job instability “negatively affects the propensity to have (more) children and leads to a postponement of childbirth,” which, by shortening the window of fertility, also has the effect of lowering the expected fertility rate (Modena et al., 17). Without a more stable and flexible job market women will remain with this tough choice.
Gender dynamics are, of course, a factor in fertility. Women’s roles in society are evolving and their increased participation in education and the labor force, along with the popularity of contraception, have noticeably correlated with the decline in fertility. However, Italy still has one of the lowest rates in female employment—demonstrating that factors beyond job rates must affect fertility (Mills et al., 3). Government assistance programs are one such element. The lack of welfare and infrastructure for new parents, particularly mothers, is a huge oversight. Modern low fertility rates are due, in part, to “a lack of supportive social or market provisions for maternal employment that delay age at first birth and/or reduce the likelihood of higher parity births (Kohler et al., 2002). In September 2016, a government campaign to promote “Fertility Day” caused controversy and outrage. It was widely criticized for encouraging women to have children despite a lack of government programs to support new mothers (Piangiani). It put the onus women to fix the problem, when the government should be creating programs to support their choices instead. In Italy, the primary source of childcare is the family; daycare is expensive and most employers are not accommodating to the schedules of new mothers (Piangiani). Government support is inadequate, so “grandparents represent the predominant model of childcare” (Fiori, 581; Del Boca et al., 54). The issue is widely acknowledged yet still unanswered by political action, even after Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has admitted “to increase the birthrate, structural issues like day care and services need to be addressed” (Piangiani). Until this problem is addressed fertility rates will likely continue to fall.
The insufficient labor and welfare systems inherently produce a conflict for working women pursing motherhood (and vice versa). The “dominant male-breadwinner family model,” small and inflexible childcare system, and assorted social programs that largely benefit single-income earning couples are just some of the obstacles women face (2). Women are responsible for assuming most of the domestic and household work., while men work full time and earn the majority of the family income. Therefore, women must make careful planning decisions for her family and be “very prudent about becoming pregnant” (Piangiani). In the early 2000s, the a program was designed to help new parents by providing a maternity and paternity leave extension based on European Union mandates. However, this program was unsuccessful, particularly showing low participation for men when “in 2005, only 8% of fathers had made use of their quote of parental leave, and 4% intended to benefit from it in the future” (Fiori, 581). While there are signs of increasing paternal involvement and equitable division of labor, current level still impose most tasks on the mother, or the aforementioned intergenerational network of support, i.e. the grandparents.
To increase fertility levels Modena et al. suggest creating policy to “account for—and try to reduce—insecurity about women’s future empowerment and the household income and wealth” (18). Securing steady employment for women may reduce anxiety over family income and give couples more freedom and confidence to increase fertility outcomes. There is potential in mirroring policy of Northern European countries, such a France, that have higher total fertility rates, “with the objective of simultaneously encouraging fertility and the participation of women in the labor force” (Del Boca et al, 53). This would require government attention and support for family planning policy. Moreover, these policies must also support women and families after children are born. Programs that support new parents and enable women to remain part of the labor force are critical means of increasing fertility. “Public childcare availability, generous optional maternity leave, as well as part-time opportunities” (54) allow women to decide for themselves how to proceed economically and domestically.
Additionally, changing the gender expectations of couples could have positive impacts on fertility rates. By breaking down traditional gender roles of the male-breadwinner model and female caregiver, Italians may find a more equitable balance of labor both at home and in the workforce (Fiori, 583). This is supported by a recorded “positive relationship between fathers’ greater participation in childcare and/or domestic activities” and fertility outcomes (Fiori, 582). This observed phenomenon gives women greater freedom to plan for more children and larger families. Expected fertility outcomes for a second child increase with a “higher paternal commitment to childbirth, childcare, and household chores” as well as with “help from the informal family network” (Fiori, 591). Liberating women from the sole responsibility of domestic labor opens fertility opportunities. The impact of increased paternal involvement in childrearing deserves further study to reveal the scope of potential fertility impacts.
Evidence suggests that fertility is affected largely by market conditions that force women to choose between a job and a child. This conflict manifests in a decrease of fertility intentions for a second child. Factors like family income, housing status, childcare availability, government financial assistance programs, and quality of familial support impact family planning. These conditions are particularly relevant for Italy, but occur elsewhere in Europe as well.
Because of this phenomenon, Italy is struggling to meet sustainable population levels. Fertility is at a low point that coincides with that of other Mediterranean countries but contrasts with many states in Northern Europe. These unprecedented levels of low fertility have serious long-term consequences. Decades of these combined factors have lead to an unfavorable “ration of numbers of people of pension age to people of working age” (Maclennan, et al, 32). Countries with a significant aging population and low birth rates will find that a decline in the active working population leads to undue stress on the remaining younger generations. The current levels of Italian fertility cannot maintain the population and will have “far-reaching demographic, economic, and social consequences” (Kohler et al, 642). Thus, it is important to study the contributing factors to this phenomenon and uncover methods to supplement the population differential.
Further research may compare the decreasing fertility rates of Italy with those of other European countries, to determine causal factors and linkages. This includes Mediterranean countries suffering from similar declining rates, as well as Northern European countries that have not seen this phenomenon. Countries not suffering from low or lowest low fertility should be studied, compared, and contrasted to discover what factors lead to more sustainable populations. This research may consider the impact of immigration to boost Italy’s population and workforce. Alternatively, it may look at how changing women’s participation in the labor force could change this trend. The subject of paternal roles in childcare and domestic work is an underdeveloped area of study that may help elucidate causes and solutions to the fertility decline. All of these factors, and more, may be considered in subsequent review of this topic.
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