Claudia Corsini, 46, a mother of two, always pictured herself as having a house full of children.
“Since I was a little girl I always dreamed of having a big family,” Corsini said as one of her two children, 9-year-old son Paolo, climbed on a play structure at a playground located in the Piazzelle Roma in Urbino. “I wanted to have more children. I would like to, but I can’t.”
Once known for its sprawling Catholic families, Italy has for the past decade had one of the lowest fertility rates in the Western world - 1.31 children per woman, according to the CIA World Factbook. (By comparison, the United States has a rate of 2.05.) Once expected to marry young and have lots of bambini, many Italian women now marry later and pursue careers. In addition, most couples believe feel they cannot financially support more than one child.
“Unless you have very strong social services it’s impossible to have two, three kids in the family,” said Gabriele Cavalera, spokesman for Urbino Mayor Franco Corbucci.
Between 2004 and 2006, the Italian government was so concerned about the country’s low birthrate that it began paying women a bonus of 1,000 euro to have a second child.
“It was mostly a slogan because one or two thousand euro is not going to make much of a difference,” said Corbucci. In his view, having only one or two children by now has “become a kind of lifestyle, a way of life ” for the Italian people.
Interviews with several families and local officials suggest that this national trend persists in Urbino, a small university town in the Marche region.
“Young people go to college and do not become independent for a long time,” Corbucci said. “Here it is more evident because the university is here.”
In Italy, it’s not uncommon for adult children to live with their parents well into adulthood. Many women don’t marry and start having children until their thirties, leaving them little time to have multiple pregnancies. Many women want to get their careers under way before starting a family.
“By the time you get out of the university you are a little bit older,” said Cavalera “It takes time to establish yourself.”
Giovanna Turriani, 40, a teacher at the Asilo Valerio pre-school in Urbino, said the largest family she could recall in her years of teaching at the school was a family with four children.
Corsini said that one of the reasons people do not have a lot of children is because it is “an economic matter.” She explained that “before it took less money,” and “now there’s a lot of money needed” to support a family.
According to national statistics, in 2007 the average monthly expenditure for a couple in Italy with one child was 2,957 euro (the equivalent of about $4,100 in the U.S.); for two children the average was 3,188 euro ($4,500 in the U.S.).
The change in family size and greater emphasis on careers have changed the family lifestyle in Italy. Many parents work long days while their children either go to a school for infants or are cared for by their grandparents.
“I couldn’t live without my job,” said Francesca Brancati, 30, the assistant to the archbishop of Urbino and the mother of 2-year-old Elisa. While Brancati and her husband work, her mother takes care of Elisa.
Another resident of Urbino, Claudio Giambartolomei, 64, helps one of his four daughters by taking turns with his wife caring for his first grandson, 2-year-old Ricardo Mechelli. He described having a child in Italy as an “evento stupendo,” a stupendous event.
“It’s the most beautiful thing in the world, the first thing in the world,” Giambartolomei said. “When you receive a grandson it’s like you are young again.”
Since Italian families know they can only afford to have one or two children while both parents work full time, children are precious gifts or “molto importante,” very important.
While Corsini originally imagined herself with many children, she is content with her two children, 9-year-old son Paolo, and 15-year-old daughter Anna.
With a wide spread smile, Corsini said, “I look at this as a dream of a big family coming true.”