Posts spread false claims on declining Italian birth rate

Capitalizing on concerns about an aging population, users on multiple social media platforms claim no babies have been born in Italy over the past three months. This is false; while the country's birth rate is declining, data show there have been thousands of newborns in 2023 -- and several newspapers have reported such announcements.

"Unfortunately, Italy has recently set a new All-Time Low, as there were NO BIRTHS in the entire Country for three Months," says an October 4, 2023 blog post on Medium, an open publishing platform.

<span>Screenshot of a Medium post taken November 15, 2023</span>
Screenshot of a Medium post taken November 15, 2023

An October 18 YouTube video with similar claims compares Italy's declining birth rate to the aging population of Japan. Shorter clips have also circulated on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok -- some falsely linking the supposed lack of newborns to adverse vaccine effects.

<span>Screenshot of an Instagram post taken November 15, 2023</span>
Screenshot of an Instagram post taken November 15, 2023
<span>Screenshot of a TikTok post taken November 15, 2023</span>
Screenshot of a TikTok post taken November 15, 2023

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in October that with a larger elderly population and fewer young people to support them, the country may be unable to meet its welfare demands by 2050. Japan faces similar issues.

However, claims of no recent births in Italy are false.

The country's National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) releases monthly provisional population data with birth records (archived here). The agency reported 33,753 live births in July and 33,093 in August.

Italian newspapers also chronicled several births in September:

  • On September 24, Prima La Martesana, an online newspaper covering Milan, published an article about the births of five babies the previous week -- including a set of twins (archived here).

  • Genova24, an online outlet covering the province of Genoa, announced September 23 that it was adding a newborns section (archived here). The publication covered the births of four babies before the end of the month (archived here).

Both outlets have continued to publish birth announcements into October and November.

'Demographic anxiety'

While there have been babies born recently in Italy, the country's birth rate has been on a decades-long decline.

An October 26 ISTAT publication (archived here) reported the total number of babies born in 2022 had dropped 1.7 percent from the year before -- marking a continuous annual decrease since at least 2008. Using data from the first half of 2023, the agency predicted the trend would continue.

Elizabeth Krause, an anthropology professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said demographers first raised alarm bells about the decreasing birth rate in the 1990s, when researchers found Italy and Spain had the lowest fertility rates in the world (archived here).

The October ISTAT report put Italy's fertility rate at 1.24. That figure was slightly higher for foreign women who give birth in the country, at 1.87.

Krause said changes in age, ethnicity and other categories could cause "demographic anxiety" in Italy, which has set aside 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) to address such trends.