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Portrait of a Nation (PART ONE) PDF Print E-mail
Feb 08, 2010 at 04:36 PM
ImageThe Italian national statistics agency, ISTAT, recently published a document called Noi,Italia , which provides a snapshot of Italy as it was at the end of 2008. I thought I would extrapolate some salient facts about the country we all love that will make visitors more aware of what is, and isn't, going on here.

DEMOGRAPHY: The average population density in Italy2008 was 200 inhabitants per square kilometer, making Italy one of the most densely popolated countries in Europe (average density, 116 people per km2). Additionally, while the fact that 45% of Italians live in heavily urbanized areas is in line with European averages, another figure - 39.3% living in areas of mid-level urbanization - exceeds the European average by about 14 percentage points.

POPULATION: Italians represent roughly 12% of Europe's population of close to 500 million, making Italy the fourth largest of the 27 (too many!) countries now in the European union. After years of decline, due largely to one of the lowest birth rates in the world, in 2001 the population began growing again - at an average rate of 0.7% per year. But this is a result of ongoing immigration into Italy more than anything else; true, there has been a slight increase in the birth rate, now up from a rock-bottom 1.1 (in the mid-nineties) to 1.41 children per woman of child-bearing age (15-49). Nevertheless, with 9.6 live births per 1000 inhabitants, the Italian birth rate in 2008 was still one of the lowest in the EU.

LIFE EXPECTANCY: In contrast, Italy has one of the highest life expectancies in all of Europe, 84 years for women (French and Spanish women live slightly longer) and 78.6 years for men (just a tad below the 79 years to which Swedish men can look forward). The Italian region with the highest life expectance for men are the Marche and, for women, the province of Bolzano. The lowest life expectancy rates for both sexes are in the southern region of Campania. Combined with the low birth rate, long life expectancy means that Italy's population is one of the "oldest" among the EU member counties. Indeed, as of January 1, 2009, there were 143 Italians over 65 for every Italian under 18, a proportion that is higher than anywhere else in Europe except Germany. The Italian region with the "oldest" population is Liguria.

MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE: There are 4,2 marriages per thousand inhabitants per year in Italy, with some 35% (but this rises to over 50% in certain of the country's northern regions) celebrated in civil rather than religious ceremonies. Italy and Ireland are the EU countries with the lowest level of divorce (8.5 for every 10,000 people) but don't be misled by this because thousands of Italian couples get legal separations (13,7 for every 10,000 people) and never take things any further.- However, divorces are increasing, by 34.9% over the last decade. Not surprisingly, there are more divorces in the Italian North than in the South, with the highest level (of both separations and divorces) registered in Valle D'Aosta and, next, Liguria.

FOREIGN-BORN POPULATION: Currently, close to 6.5% of Italy's 59 million residents were born elsewhere, a percentage that has more than doubled since 2001. The official statistics bureau estimates that some four million foreigners live in Italy, of whom slightly more than half are legal residents of the country. It's not clear how they arrived at the former figure since illegal immigrants are hard to track precisely because they are not registered anywhere. In fact, while it is easy to know how many "sojourn permits" (permessi di soggiorno) exist, I don't think anyone really knows just how many illegals live in Italy and since, despite the government's so-called hard-line policy, people - including those who are noticeably non-Italian - are rarely asked for their papers unless they commit some othe crime.

Who are Italy's foreigners?: More than a fifth of the foreigners living officially in Italy come from Africa, primarily from North Africa (15.6% of the whole). Over seven percent come from Central and South America. 20 percent from other EU countries and the rest from Asia, the Middle East, Russia and North America. Interestingly enough, although many of these, people, particularly those from developing countries, do manual labor of one sort or another, more than half (51.1%) of the total have finished junior high, 38.4% have graduated from high school and 10.5% have a university degree. They also represent 7.6% of the total work force and the percentage of the foreign-born who are working (73%) is higher than that of the overall total of Italian residents, meaning immigrants come to Italy primarily for one reason: jobs.

Where do they come from? When immigration first began here in full force around 20 years ago, the most important countries of origin were Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa and the Philippines. More recently, following the enlargement of the European Union, this has changed. Rumanians, for example, have been pouring into Italy since their country joined the EU in January, 2007 and now represent over 20% of resident foreigners. At present, 53.6% of all foreigners are from the enlarged EU, with Rumanians, Albanians and Ukrainians representing the largest groups. About 25% of immigrants come from Africa, primarily Morocco (10.4%), Tunisia and Egypt, some 15% are from Asia, and

The biggest foreign community from Asia is the Chinese, followed by the Philippines, Indians, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankans. Well over half of Italy's resident foreigners live in the Italian north (62.1%), over a quarter in the center and the rest in the Italian south. Interestingly enough, Rumanians now represent the majority of foreigners in 14 of Italy's 20 regions! Albanians are the first group in Puglia, in Liguria and in the Marche. Marrocans are number one in Valle d'Aosta and Emilia-Romagna (14,9 per cento). And the biggest concentration of Chinese can be found in Tuscany (8.4% of total resident foreigners) e Sardinia (7.8%).
In Campania, the largest foreign community are the Ukrainians (23% of resident foreigners). Istat also looked at distribution by sex and found that in the provinces of Belluno, Napoli, Caserta and Avellino, the largest single group is represented by (husband-hunting?) Ukrainian women, while men from Sri Lanka are the biggest foreign group in both Palermo and Messina.

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