On Sunday, Italian prime Minister Matteo Renzi proposed a new policy that would give new mothers 80 euros a month.
Under the plan, all women, regardless of income, can take advantage of the bonus until their child is three years old. Low-income families who make less than 1,500 euros a month would also qualify for the bonus. The policy will begin on January 1, 2015 and is expected to cost Italy around half a billion euros.
Renzi, who has three children, said that he knows what it is like to have to “buy diapers, baby bottles and spend for kindergarten” and described the policy as “a measure that does not solve a problem but is a signal.” The proposal, which is part of a larger budget plan that will create tax breaks for low-income families, is expected to be submitted to Italy’s president Giorgio Napolitano on Monday.
Giving bonuses to families with babies is not new in Italy. In 2003, then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi created a policy that gave families that had a second child by 2004 1,000 euros. While the plan was criticized by demographic experts for not solving the roots of Italy’s low birth rate problem, such as the lack of affordable child care, local politicians followed suit; in Laviano, a town in Southern Italy, the mayor offered to pay families who had children 10,000 euros. In the lead-up to the 2006 general elections, Berlusconi promised families with children born in 2005 a bonus of 650 euros. However, over 3,000 families who were not Italian or European Union citizens were forced to pay the bonus back.
In Italy, women get five months of paid maternity leave and receive 80 percent of their paycheck during their leave. In fact, a 1971 law mandates that women take the leave, beginning two months before they give birth. After three months, women can choose to continue leave for another six months and receive 30 percent of their salary. However, despite the government maternity leave policies and the constitution banning discrimination against women in the workplace, companies punish women who plan on having children; many companies force women employees to sign resignation letters when they start work which are then used to fire them if they get pregnant. Around 40 percent of women who leave the workplace say they left to take care of their children. Only 48 percent of Italian women work outside of the home.
Italy’s birthrate remains low; in 2013, there were only 515,000 babies born, a rate of about 8.84 births per 1,000 people. The overall fertility rate is about 1.4 children per woman, which is one of the lowest in the world, and the average maternal age at first birth is 30. As a result, its population is growing at only 0.3 percent a year, making it 171st for population growth. Italy has the second oldest population in Europe, with 151 people over 65 for every 100 people under 15.
But its expectations that women will stay home to care for children and not work may be depressing birth rates. A study found that there is a link between lower birth rates and an emphasis on traditional gender roles. Paying Italian women a bonus when they have children may not reverse the trend on its own.