The stereotyped image of the large and traditional Italian family, with more than six children, is just an old memory. In fact, in the last thirty years the structure of the Italian family has dramatically changed from the traditional model we were used to see in 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 women usually didn’t work. In the past 100 years, the evolution of their country from an agricultural system into an industrial system brought many changes to the culture, mentality, and habits of Italian society—and families have change as a result. However, heirlooms of the traditional model of family can still be found in the modern system.
Through Italian families tend to be smaller now, they continue to spend a lot of time together and their members typically try to gather to eat together at least one meal each day where they share their days’ events. Moreover, there are still strong ties among family members even when they create new family units or if they live far from their original families, and most still join their parents or relatives during festivities like Christmas or Easter.
Italian families today
The average Italian family today is made up on or two children. Typically due to different cultural concepts of lifestyle and values, families in the South will have more children than those of the North of the country, often more than two. Surveys and statistics carried out by ISTAT (Italy’s National Statistics Institute) show that there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of average members per family. This is due to some important factors: a reduction in the number of new births (which led to an increase in the number of couples without children): a decrease in the number of marriages; and a rise in the number of single-parent families. Additionally, another type of family is now widespread all over Italy, the so-called reconstituted family, where a member of the family is a commuter or lives for some period in other parts of the country because of work. All this contributes to a re-conceptualization of the roles that the individuals play in different stages of life, both inside and outside their families.
The problem of aging
In the last few years there has been a considerable rise in the number of old couples, causing and imbalance between generations because the births of babies do not counterbalance the process of aging. In fact, the rate of aging in Italy is booming; it is the fastest in growth worldwide. The number of couples aged 74-85 has increased steadily in the last few years, and this phenomenon is demanding more measures in the field of welfare services.
The birth rate, though lower than it would need to be to balance the aging process, continues to receive a large boos from foreign couples as the birth of babies born from parents coming from other countries has risen, from 6% in 1995 up to 12% in 2004.
New family models
Italy has gone through an important revolution in the types of family models due to a number of factors, above all the changing role of women-the social revolution has resulted in more women being independent and focused on their careers. In addition—and in large part as a result of women’s changing status—the concept of the family and itself has changed from a hierarchical model, to one of more equality within the family itself. This has resulted in new types of families, families made up of singles, couples (not married), couples without children, and single –parent families. Also in the Italian family it is common to find sons who live with their parents up to the point at which they marry, and even then some of them go on living under the same roof of their parents and they depend economically on them.
The most common reasons people decide to marry later or not to marry at all are education and expenses linked to attending university, lack of economic independence, and lack of a steady job. From all these data it emerges that it is not possible to classify the Italian family under a single category any longer. Next to the traditional model of family, which has dominated for ages, there now coexist new models of families that express the economic and social changes Italy has gone through it its recent history. As the world and norms continue to change, the family structures are likely to change with them, and new models of families will continue to emerge.