Italy’s official population in the census taken in 2001 was just under 57 million. Since 2001, immigration from the third world and Eastern Europe has increased rapidly, and the best estimate of Italy’s population is currently about 58.5 million people, about 5 percent of whom are non-Italian natives. The Italian statistical agency, ISTAT, has calculated that the average age is just over 41 (but is increasing rapidly). Italians are among the longest-lived peoples in the world: Men live on average to 77 years of age, while women reach 83.
   The birthrate, as in most advanced European countries, is low (about 1.3 children per woman of child-bearing age), though it has inched up from its low point in the mid-1990s and is now higher than several of Italy’s European neighbors. One cause for the low birthrate is that Italians are marrying later. Despite much less traditional sexual mores and family structures than even 20 or 30 years ago, most babies are born in wedlock and baptized in church. Italy’s population (measured by inhabitants within the current borders, because Italy gained territory in 1866, 1871, and 1918 and lost territory in 1945) was about 22 million people at unification in 1861. It increased to 33 million in 1901 and to just under 40 million in 1921; in other words, it almost doubled in 60 years. This was despite the fact that migration, above all to the United States and to South America, hugely affected Italy’s population growth after 1861. Between 1887, when the United States opened its borders, and 1900, 269,000 people a year left Italy for foreign shores. Such migration initially affected the North of the country more, but by the late 1880s hundreds of thousands of southerners were joining the exodus. After 1900, both the amount of migration and the relative share of southerners going abroad increased. Between 1910 and 1913, more than 600,000 Italians emigrated every year. Literally millions of Italians passed through Ellis Island or trod the streets of Buenos Aires. Under Fascism, the Italian state used propaganda and material incentives to raise the birthrate, outlawed abortion and contraception, and made migration abroad much more difficult. The United States passed discriminatory immigration laws designed to reduce the numbers of Italians (among others) entering the country. Nevertheless, Italy’s population grew only to 42.4 million in 1936. When the 1951 census was taken, after a second war in which hundreds of thousands of mostly young Italians had died, the population had risen to 47.5 million.
   Like most other European countries, Italy enjoyed a “baby boom” in the prosperous years of the economic miracle. Italy added nine million people between 1951 and 1981, although thereafter population growth leveled off. This was despite the fact that Italy once again became a substantial net exporter of people after 1945. More than 2.6 million Italians emigrated between 1946 and 1960. The distribution of migrants was different after World War II, however. The most common destination, taking nearly 21 percent of all migrants in these years, was France, with Argentina a close second. Venezuela was a popular choice, while many Italians went to work as miners in Wales or Belgium. Millions of Italians also migrated within Italy, with cities such as Turin being transformed by the influx of job seekers from southern Italy.
   Today, Italy’s most populous regions are Lombardy, Sicily, and Campania. Rome is the largest city, with a population of about 2.5 million, although if one adds the surrounding metropolitan area Milan emerges as the biggest city, with a population of 4.3 million. Milan, Rome, and Naplesapart, Italy has very few big cities. Population is spread out among a large number of provincial capitals with populations of over 100,000.
   See also Immigration; Minorities.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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