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The Birth of a Baby: A welcome change from the past 28 years

February 22, 2016
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Pablo, his parents, and one of his sisters

The birth of a baby is typically time for celebration for its family. However, the recent birth of a newborn is being celebrating by his entire town. Baby Pablo, born to a family residing in the small Italian town of Ostana, holds a very special place in the town’s heart – he raised their town population to 85, and is the first baby born in the town since 1987. Pablo’s parents, Silvia Rovere and Josè Berdugo Vallelago, moved to the small town from Turin a few years ago, and Josè is originally from Madrid Spain.

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Silvia Rovere, registering baby Pablo at Ostana’s local registry office

Before they moved to Ostana, they had been thinking of moving to Reunion, but were given the chance to manage an alpine refuge in Ostana, an attempt by the mayor of the small town to keep young families there. Along with his two sisters, and his parents, Pablo’s family makes up about 10% of the “permanent” residents of this small town, since only about half of the population lives there year round.

This birth is the faintest heartbeat giving hope not just to this tiny town, who saw its permanent population drop to 5 in the mid-80s, but to small mountain towns all over Italy, who, almost across the board, have seen their populations decline.

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Ostana, a small mountain village in Italy, which welcomed the first baby born to residents of the town in 28 years.

Town after town is having to close up, after residents move to bigger cities in search of jobs, and life becomes untenable to support an entire community in small villages nestled in the mountainside. This accelerated population decline leads to drastic measures being taken by government officials. Some of these measures include, giving businesses tax exemptions, “banning” residents from falling ill, selling homes for less than $2, and offering €10,000 “baby bonuses” to incentivize families to have more children.

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Though this decline in population is more evident – and more extreme – in small villages, Italy, and Europe as a whole, are at a threshold “where people who die are not being replaced by newborns.” While Europe’s birthrate is around 9.9%, its population growth is almost negligible, sitting at 0.2%. This leads to many social and political changes. chart(1)Whereas countries with young populations tend to invest more in schools, countries with older populations find they need to invest more in the health sector. Alejandro, Macarrón, a Spanish business consultant who is observing the numbers behind his own country’s change in demographics, says regarding the political power of the gray vote, “During the same time frame [of the crippling austerity measures put in place during the economic crisis], expenditures on pensions rose by more than 40%. We’re moving closer to being a gerontocratic society – it’s a government of the old.”births_and_deaths2c_eu-282c_1961e280932014_28c2b929_28million29_yb15_ii

There are manifold causes of this decline in European population, and the reasons for decline in specific regions and countries differ. For instance, in Germany (and many Eastern European countries), there is a strong social stigma against working mothers, there’s a term in German: “Rabenmutter” (“raven mother”) which is very negative, referencing the fact that ravens push their chicks out of the nest and relating that to women who don’t mother enough, meaning that they send their children to all-day schooling, instead of the half-day, like “good” mothers. Interestingly enough, in other countries low birth-rates have been attributed to women bucking social norms and choosing to be professional women, not having children at all, or at the very least, having fewer children, and having them later in life. An additional problem that many countries, especially those in Southern Europe have faced is the rise in youth unemployment. This leads young adults to live with their parents well into their thirties, which then discourages having children until later in life, and lessens how many children, on average, each couple has. Additionally, since young people tend to have to take lower-paying jobs, they also feel like they don’t have enough money to support having children.

 

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Children playing in a 24-hour kindergarten in Germany

There have been varied efforts at trying to slow, and eventually reverse, this decline in population. In addition to the previously mentioned methods within Italy involving monetary rewards for having more children, helping businesses thrive, and forbidding illness, countries have taken various measures. Scandinavian countries, the United Kingdom, and France have all lessened the impact of declines in birth rates by allowing more immigration into their countries; Germany has also recently increased how many immigrants they have per year with the incorporation of Syrian refugees. Additionally, besides “baby bonuses”, many countries, like Germany, are offering free or highly discounted daycare centers and afterschool programming so that mothers can work more without feeling so much pressure to take care of their children.

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A statue in Ostana, built to commemorate the birth of baby Pablo

This trend cannot be immediately fixed, and requires governmental and economic effort and change, as well as social norms to be amended (being more accepting of working mothers and an necessitates an increase in positive feelings about nuclear families), but with effort, many researchers say that this trend can be turned around, but only if it is addressed quickly.

While European governments – both local and state – might currently be worrying about how to turn around this very concerning trend, moment by moment, across the continent, new sparks of hope for the future are born, including one in the small town of Ostana.

Blog post by Erin Arnold

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