MILAN (AP) — Deaths outnumbered births in Italy last year, according to a report by the country's statistics agency — the fourth year in a row that more people died than were born.
"The gap between births and deaths is growing," said ISTAT demographer Marco Marsili. He warned that over the long term this would lead to a decrease in population
The number of births dropped by 12,000 to 557,000 last year, the second year births dropped after several years of modest increases. Meanwhile, 587,000 people died. Nonetheless, Italy's population grew to 60.6 million, an increase of 0.4 percent, due to the impact of immigration.
ISTAT attributes the drop in births to the decreasing fertility of women born in Italy's baby boomer generation of the 1970s who are leaving their childbearing years, as well as socio-economic factors. The agency noted that the rate of fertility for Italian women dropped from 1.33 in 2009 to 1.29 last year.
The overall fertility in Italy, taking into account foreign residents, was 1.4 percent.
"The progressive exit from the scene, regarding the reproductive cycle, by baby boomers would seem to have nearly reversed the trend of recovery in recent years," ISTAT said in a news release.
Low birth rates in Italy and in much of the western world have long been viewed as a social issue. For years, Italy's birth rate has been supplemented by the presence of foreigners — from 6.5 percent of the total births a decade ago to nearly 19 percent last year.
In fact, births by Italian mothers dropped by 13,000 last year, which ISTAT says makes births by foreigners ever more important — foreigners had 104,000 new children last year.
Life expectancy for men is now 79.1 years old, while women's life expectancy is 84.3 years — both minor increases.
Italy's Youth Minister Giorgia Meloni said in an interview Monday that the demographic issue — a long-standing issue in Italy, "is one of the biggest problems we face in our times."
She said the government has put aside money to help couples who are unemployed or underemployed "to make the important choice to bring a child into the world." But she acknowledged that in an age of austerity resources are scarce.
Measures to reverse the birthrate drop require "millions in investment," Meloni said. "That we can't do, because of the financial crisis."