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Marriage And Children

People in modern Italy marry less frequently and at an older age than in the past. Women get married at age twenty-seven, on average, and men at almost thirty. By the end of the twentieth century, Italians faced a new model of marriage that caused a shift forward of all the different phases of the family life cycle: later exit from the family, later achievement of independence, and later experience of parenthood.

In 1999, separations and divorce increased in the north (respectively, 5.1% and 3%) more than in the south of Italy (2.7 percent and 1.2 percent per 1,000 married couples). When couples separate or divorce, more than 90 percent of minors live in the custody of their mothers, 94 percent of those under six years of age.

Civil marriages have increased as well, (16.8 percent in 1990 and 20.3 percent in 1996), mainly because second marriages have become more common, and one cannot marry twice in the Catholic Church. Consequently, new models of cohabitation, in which one or both spouses have had a previous marriage and children, become less unusual.

The number of marriages in which one of the members of the married couple is not an Italian doubled in the 1990s, from 2.2 percent in 1989 to 5 percent in 1999. These marriages take place mainly in the north of Italy, and most involve Italian men who marry women from Eastern Europe or Latin America. Very few Italian women marry TABLE 1

Italian families per number of members, by percentage
Members 1989/90   1993/94   1998
  SOURCE: Istat, Indagini Multiscopo, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1998.    
One 20.3   21.5   21.7
Two 23.7   24.7   26.1
Three 23.2   23.4   23.4
Four 22.6   21.5   21.1
Five 7.7   6.5   5.9
Six or more 2.4   2.3   1.8

foreigners, and in these cases they marry mainly European men and men from North Africa, above all Morocco.

These processes and transformations of Italian families have been accompanied by a dramatic drop in the birthrate caused by the postponement of the birth of the first child, delayed marriages, and a new trend in deciding when one wants to become a parent. In 1971 the average age of women having their first child was 25.1; in 1998 it was 28.4. Only a small minority of Italian women have more than three children, and the majority have one or two. The average number of children per woman dropped from 2.4 in 1981 to 1.2 in 1998. In 1993-94 one-child families represented 43.8 percent of the total of all families with children; in 1997–98 they represented 45.2 percent.

To understand these changes in Italian family structures, it is important to consider the changes in the relationship of women to education and employment.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsItaly - Marriage And Children, Education And Gender Roles, Young People Living In The Parental Family