Births in Italy hit 160-year low and continue to slide

ROME, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Births in Italy last year hit their lowest level since the unification of Italy in 1861, the national statistics office said on Tuesday, as the figure fell for a 12th consecutive year.

There were 404,892 births last year, the ISTAT statistics office said, down 15,192 on the previous year.

Some 746,146 people died in 2020 as the population fell to 59.3 million.

The slump continues this year, provisional data for January to September show, with 12,500 fewer births than in the same period the year before. ISTAT said the COVID-19 epidemic appeared to be a major factor in the plunge.

The average number of children per woman resident in Italy fell to 1.24 in 2020. The rate was even lower for Italian women, coming in at 1.17 -- one of the lowest ratios in the world.

Fertility rates varied between the industrialised north and the poorer south. In Bolzano, near the border with Austria, the fertility rate was 1.71 while on the southern island of Sardinia, women had 0.97 children on average.

The average age at which Italian women had their first child rose to a record high 32.7 last year, while 35.8% of births took place outside of marriage. In 2008, the number was just 19.6%, suggesting a sharp decline in the influence of the Catholic Church.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by Jason Neely

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.