Italy’s government issues outrageous fertility ads over fears of a ‘demographic time bomb’

A woman in demonstration against the Fertility Day. Photo: Stefano Montesi/Corbis via Getty Images

September 22 is Fertility Day in Italy, but Italians are hardly in the mood.

Following a series of government-issued ads intended to boost the country’s falling fertility rate, citizens responded more with outrage than an appetite for sex, the New York Times reports.

In Italy, many citizens view the current system of child support as highly ineffective. Parents bear the sole responsibility of raising their children, unlike many other countries like Finland or the US where day care is fully or partly covered by government subsidies.

“I should be a model for their campaign, and I still feel very offended,” Vittoria Iacovella, a 37-year-old mother of two, told the Times. “The government encourages us to have babies, and then the main welfare system in Italy is still the grandparents.”

With its rock-bottom fertility rate of 1.37 children per woman, among the lowest in Europe, Italy is now one of roughly 10 countries whose governments have responded to falling childbirth rates with public campaigns to promote reproduction.

One reads, “Don’t let your sperm go up in smoke.”

Another says, “Beauty has no age limit. Fertility does.”

Blunt as they may be, Italy’s campaigns were tame compared to other countries’ efforts.

Last year, Denmark encouraged Danes to literally “do it for Denmark.” In 2013, Vladimir Putin had Boyz II Men sing on Valentine’s Day. And in 2012 Singapore partnered with Mentos to hold an event in which patrons were told to “let their patriotism explode.”

The demographic problems in Italy are still undeniable. Last year saw the fewest number of births since 1861, just 488,000. Based on the current population, that’s dangerously below a threshold sociologists refer to as “replacement fertility,” or 2.1 children per woman.

If this persists, Italy may follow the same trend as Japan, which is currently poised for a “demographic time bomb.” Without young people to enter the workforce and spend money, entire industries could decline over time, leading to a vicious cycle of downturn. A recent report released by UBS, for instance, found countries with low fertility rates could see huge economic slowdown in the coming decades.

Italy doesn’t face quite the same challenges as Japan, whose elderly population is much larger, but it could very well run into its own timebomb. That is, unless the government decides to listen to its citizens and makes it easier and cheaper to have children.

A few clever tweets might not do the trick.

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