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italoamericano-digital-3-23-2017

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THURSDAY, MARCH 23, 2017 www.italoamericano.org L'Italo-Americano 2 NEWS & FEATURES TOP STORIES PEOPLE EVENTS Italy and the family. Updating a stereotype F amily is one of those con- cepts that traditionally, due to preconception or stereo- type, defines Italians from both inside and outside the national confines. Not that there isn't such a thing. A study a few years ago verified that for 70% of young Italians, the family is an essen- tial pillar of life. Its nucleus rep- resents a stable and reliable point of reference to go to for assistance even in difficult situa- tions: before an uncertain future the family represents for the young people a fundamental cer- tainty. Indeed, precisely the dif- ficulties that the young people face in gaining autonomy, inte- grating themselves in the work- force, have further increased the need for help with respect to the original family. But returning to the original topic, it is not always that way. Over time, the demographics explain, things have changed. The "historical" family, as we have known it, living up to the boom of the Sixties, no longer describes contemporary society. The World Health Organization ranked us in third place for the oldest population in the world in 2015, exceeded only by Japan and Germany. This statistic tells of an alarming decrease in the birth rate which in January of this year registered a new historic low of just 474 thousand babies. Conversely, those over 65-years-old exceed 13.5 million, representing 22.3% of the population, the 80-some- thing-year-olds are 4.1 million or 6.8%, and those in their nineties are 727 thousand, or 1.2%. And centenarians, beyond the fact that they testify to a good quality of life, are a good 17 thousand out of 60 million Italians. All these unthinkable figures had all been reversed at the beginning of the last century. In 1901, there were only 28 elderly people per 100 young people. Even the "family format" has changed profoundly. The traditional family—peas- ant and patriarchal, full of chil- dren and bringing together in sol- idarity several generations under the same roof, with men that work and women that concern themselves with the house and the education of the children—is a concept now tied to the first half of the twentieth century and to the idea exported by emi- grants. Today families are extended, single-parented, reconstructed and there are also increasingly more openly homosexual couples that already care for an addition- al 100 thousand children. Marriages are decreasing and free unions are increasing: in 2011, one infant out of 4 was born to a non-married couple. But there are even more and more families with only one child and there is a social conse- quence to this as well: in the 1950's, a child could count on some thirty relatives. Today it would be hard-pressed for that number to reach ten. It is also very common that children live with their parents much longer than in other west- ern countries, until they are 35- 40 years old. Before getting mar- ried and starting a family, it's even "normal" for a young Italian to continue to live in the same house as their parents and to be economically dependent on them. Today however, more than being part of the heritage, it is the only choice given how diffi- cult it is to become financially independent. Lacking a job and income security to support them- selves independently has formed a new type of family. This also demonstrates that birth rates are becoming more related to the increasing age of the mothers. In fact, today we begin to have chil- dren when at one point in time others had already stopped. The change is not only demo- graphic or social. Historically, we carry with us the importance of the family from ancient Roman times when the matrimonial nucleus was not only given a central role within a social context but was also con- nected, even in their own name, to the founding fathers of the family from the city, the gens that rather than resembling a family tree would be more mind- ful of the importance of belong- ing to a community. A concept which then, by adding many more meanings without values and much more capital, influ- enced all of the Middle Ages, passed through Lordships and Renaissance families and made it through thousands of evolu- tions until 1948 when the Constitution finally ceased to recognize noble titles that from the heraldry had always been a critical part of self-definition. The change is in line with global evolution. Not only in Italy are there increasing multi- ethnic families, since about 10% of the population is of foreign origin but, in line with the over- all flexibility and emancipation from any rule or pre-established hierarchy, it is the classical idea of the family living in competi- tion with the de facto family, which now has won social con- sensus and even legal legitima- cy. Italian practice dies hard, and does not seem to suffer any aging over time. It is the bad habit of the intercession of "pro domo sua" ("for his house") which is bound tightly to the concept of family, but in this aspect it is less noble and more easily criticized. Tradition has it that the apho- rist Leo Longanesi, in defining Italian customs, had even sug- gested writing on the national flag: sorry, but "I keep the fami- ly". BARBARA MINAFRA

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