Births drop, emigration jumps, life expectancy lengthens in Italy

ROME Thu Jun 26, 2014 1:01pm EDT

ROME (Reuters) - The number of babies born in Italy last year was the lowest on record while twice as many people emigrated compared with before the euro zone debt crisis took hold, data showed on Thursday.

National statistics office ISTAT said fewer than 514,000 babies were born in Italy in 2013, the smallest number since it began collecting data in the 1920s.

The birth rate in the euro zone's third largest economy fell to 1.39 children per woman from 1.45 in 2008, continuing a long-term trend. Even among immigrants, whose birth rate has traditionally been higher, the level dropped to 2.20 from 2.65, reflecting years of economic decline.

"In line with the social and economic changes the country has undergone in the past five years, 2013 stands out for having fundamentally weak demographic dynamics," ISTAT said, presenting preliminary data for the period.

Italy, home to around 60 million people, has struggled to deal with the tens of thousands of people who have arrived by boat from North Africa in recent years.

But the number of registered immigrants fell last year, to 307,000 from 494,000 in 2008.

Such trends mean Italy's population is aging. People aged 65 and over made up 21.4 percent, the highest proportion in the EU. Just 13.9 percent were aged 14 or under, the third lowest in the 28-member bloc.

Italians can expect to live longer than most in Europe: 79.8 years on average for men and 84.6 years for women.

The weak economy has also reduced the number of marriages, particularly among young people, with the level of 3.3 per 1,000 of population among the lowest in Europe, on a par with Spain and above only Slovenia, Portugal and Bulgaria.

According to preliminary data, there were fewer than 200,000 civil or religious weddings in the home of Roman Catholicism last year - the lowest number since World War One.

Italy, which had a long history of emigration to North and South America in the 19th and 20th centuries, saw 82,000 of its own citizens and 44,000 foreign residents emigrate last year, double the pre-crisis level in 2008.

Most were tempted by better job prospects in Britain and Germany. In Italy, 43.3 percent of young people are without work.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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