Thursday, August 10, 2006

Myths and realities about Italy's immigrants

A recent Financial Times article concerned with surveying immigration to Italy begins with scenes from the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, once a tourist destination of note now famous as a stopping point for illegal immigrants crossing the Mediterranean via boats. In fact, as the article goes on to explain, only a tenth of Italy's immigrants came to their new country of residence via sea travel. Most Italian immigrants are simply people who, after arriving legally in Italy, overstayed their visas, often finding new jobs. Italy's immigrant population encompasses quite a few more national groups than rhetoric often suggests, with the sizable Latin American and African contingents outnumbered by migrants from central and eastern Europe, as the Istituto Nazionale di Statistica's 2004 statistics demonstrate.

According to Istat, Italy's national statistics institute, there were 903,000 eastern Europeans from non-EU countries legally resident in Italy on January 1, 2005, making them the biggest bloc of foreigners by geographical origin.

They included 317,000 Albanians, 249,000 Romanians, 93,000 Ukrainians and 38,000 Moldovans – figures that come as no surprise to anyone who knows the numerous small towns south of Rome where such immigrants work as cleaners, gardeners and mechanics.

By contrast, Africans legally resident in Italy numbered 642,000, among whom Moroccans were much the largest community, accounting for 295,000 of the total.

The next largest group consisted of Asians – some 405,000 in number, including 112,000 Chinese, 83,000 Filipinos and 54,000 Indians.

Lastly, there were 230,000 people from the Americas, with 53,000 Ecuadoreans, an equal number of Peruvians and other Central and South Americans making up the vast majority.

In all, 2.4m foreigners were registered as living in Italy, although the figure today may be closer to 2.8m, or 4.8 per cent of the population, according to Caritas Italiana, a Roman Catholic organisation that specialises in immigration studies.

It goes without saying that this substantial immigration plays a critical role in at least delaying the population shrinkage ensured by Italy's continuing lowest-low fertility. Ideally, the Italian government would create a legal infrastructure that would make it easier for immigrants to integrate themselves into Italy, for their own sake and for the benefit of Italy as a whole. Unfortunately, the controversy aroused the Prodi government's recent proposal to extend voting rights and expedited citizenship to immigrants suggests otherwise.


georgesdelatour said...

Randy - I was wondering if you could explain to non-demographers like me why you think Italy's birth rate is so very low. Even by European standards of sub-replacement fertility it's extreme. Has anyone done any research on why it's so much lower than, say, Ireland?

Rob Jubb said...

It might be that lots of the South American born people living in Italy have Italian passports, through grandparents, for example, and so don't appear in surveys like this.

CV said...

To George Delatour:

Not to rain on Randy's parade (to whom the question was adressed :)) but try browsing some of the earlier posts here on DM which offer some kind of theoretical explanation as to why this lowest-low fertility occurs. Otherwise I am sure Randy will answer you question eh Randy ? ;)

Edward said...

Hi georges,

Just following up on what Claus said, you really do need to read around to get to grips with this, since it is a pretty complex phenomenon, and there is no really good consensus theory to explain to everyone's satisfaction just why this should be.

For starters it's to do with a phenomenon called the demographic transition. Now most people can agree when the transition starts, in the sense that it kicks off with a large decline in infant and child mortality, which is then followed a generation of so later by a lagged decline in fertility.

The transition started in North West Europe around the start of the 19th century, and obviously it's still continuing its course round the globe.

However, while everyone agrees when the transition starts, there is no agreement as to where it ends, since we really don't know when or if fertility will stabilise at a new low point, and if it does stabilise, at what level this stability (homeostasis) sets in. So we know what the tarnsition is a transition from, but we still don't know what it is a transition to.

And of course it still continues.

I have my own ideas, but I won't complicate things further by going into this more here.

Also before going further it is better to screen the United States out, since it is just, well different. The reasons why it is different have given rise to much debate here, maybe its religion, maybe its immigration, maybe its a whole host of different things, anyway to understand global fertility my first piece of advice is forget the US case, since ex-US the rest is pretty straightforward.

Basically in those countries where the transition started earliest, it proceeded slowest.

Those that come later have a quicker transition, and this acceleration seems to continue.

Now the other thing you need to understand about below replacement fertility is that it is associated with an upward movement in the ages at which women have the first child. This is in some way or another associated with growing female emancipation, higher levels of education, and a move of the economy up the value chain towards a higher value services economy.

Now in the countries that have a later transition, and a more rapid transition to a modern economic growth regime (China and India would now be becoming good examples, or Turkey in the EU orbit) then the upward postponement can be very rapid indeed, and this produces a phenomenon of 'missing births' as the postponement process is extended over time, and these 'missing births' produce (in general) the phenomenon of lowest-low (1.2 - 1.3 TFR) fertility. This is a statistical phenomenon, although the consequences are real enough, and the postponement part is known as the 'tempo effect'.

Now to get back to your question, Italy isn't a special case, since it is very typical of all the Mediterranean EU members, Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain. The same has happened in Japan, and also in those other late developers the Asian tigers (Singapore, Hong Kong, S Korea, Taiwan). It happened in the 90s in Eastern Europe after the wall came down and the economic and social system started to modernise, and it is now happening in China. In general we should expext to see lowest-low fertility appear accross all those part of the third world which achieve the status of modern growth economies.

As for Ireland, well we don't know yet. Fertility is falling very fast, and it was a very late developer in fertility transition terms, so it may well be that tfrs in Ireland a decade or so from now may not be that different from what they are in Southern Europe now.

I hope that makes things a bit clearer. Incidentally we are not professional demographers on this blog, just a community of people who for differing reasons got interested in all this since the phenomenon of declining fertility and the associated one of population ageing started to intrigue us. The whole process would seem to have long term consequnces, nut since the process itself is as yet unclear it is still hard to say what exactly those consequences are going to be.