2023 Census about Italy: the sleepwalking

Some economic and social processes, largely predictable in their effects, seem to have been removed from the country’s collective agenda, or at least underestimated. Although their impact will be disruptive to the system’s resilience, the ignorance in the face of ominous signs translates into a culpable indecisiveness. Italian society appears to be afflicted by a widespread state of sleepwalking, plunged into a deep slumber of rational calculation necessary to tackle long-term structural dynamics with potentially disastrous effects.

By 2050, in less than thirty years, Italy will have lost a total of 4.5 million residents (as if the two largest Italian cities, Rome and Milan together, disappeared). This figure will result from a decrease of 9.1 million people under the age of 65 (including a decline of 3.7 million under 35) and an increase of 4.6 million people aged 65 and above (with an additional 1.6 million aged 85 and above) (table 1).

Currently, women of childbearing age (conventionally, the female population aged 15-49) number 11.6 million; by 2050, they will decrease by more than 2 million, creating an insurmountable objective constraint for any attempt to reverse the decline in birth rates in the short term.

Nearly 8 million fewer individuals of working age are estimated for 2050: a scarcity of laborers that will inevitably impact the cost structure of the production system and the capacity to generate value in the industrial and service sectors.

Even the sustainability of the welfare system raises concerns: by 2050, public healthcare spending would amount to 177 billion euros, compared to today’s 131 billion.

In the face of these ominous signs, public debate stagnates, and the calmness of some cyclical indicators is insufficient to set sail for open waters. Sleepwalking as a hallmark of collective reactions to these signs is not solely attributable to the ruling classes but is a phenomenon widespread in the “silent majority” of Italians:

They have become more fragile due to identity and political disarmament, to the extent that 56.0% (61.4% among the young) feel they have little importance in society. They are wounded by a profound sense of powerlessness, with 60.8% (65.3% among the young) experiencing significant insecurity due to various unexpected risks. They are disillusioned by the historical cycle of globalization, with 69.3% believing that it has brought more harm than benefits to Italy. They are resigned to a national downsizing destiny, with 80.1% convinced that Italy has emerged from past emergencies in decline (rising to 84.1% among the young).

The Youth

The existential gap between today’s youth and preceding generations seems immense. The social elevator that historically ensured a better life transition between generations has stalled. They have witnessed the shattering of the progress myth as an unstoppable growth of the economy and consumption, replaced now by the awareness of the need for lifestyles more respectful of the environment. Their social positioning appears dictated by their more or less close and functional relationship with digital devices and platforms.

Today, in our country, those aged 18-34 are just over 10 million, accounting for 17.5% of the population; in 2003, they exceeded 13 million, representing 23.0% of the total. In twenty years, we have lost almost 3 million young individuals. The forecasts for the future are strongly negative: by 2050, those aged 18-34 will be just over 8 million, barely 15.2% of the total population.

The youth are few, express a slight demographic weight, and thus inevitably have little influence.

60.6% of young people aged 18 to 34 declare that if they could, they would leave Italy. From 2012 to 2021, 336,592 young people aged 25-34 moved abroad. 1.7 million young people aged 15 to 29 (19.8% of the total) neither work nor study, ranking second only to Romania.

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