The Double Whammy Making Italy the West’s Fasting Shrinking Nation

To address what it came to call Italy’s “problem of problems,” the regime introduced paid maternity leave, among other steps. But the obsession with birthrate by a man who threw in his lot with Hitler, demographers say, had the effect of stigmatizing social policy on the problem, leading Italy to invest less in assistance for young families than other European countries after the war.

“The belief that family policies had a Fascist echo had a role,” said Mr. Rosina, the demographer.

In the 1950s, Italy’s economy boomed, and so did its population, which filled with young workers. But generations of leaders largely failed to help Italians with programs like day care, prompting criticism that the country’s conservative culture cared more about mothers staying home to give birth than helping women work and raise children.

In November, Ms. Meloni, who has roots in post-Fascist parties, encouraged couples to have children and businesses to hire women. She later announced a 50 percent increase in the “baby bonus” checks parents receive a year after a birth and a 50 percent increase in assistance for three years to families with more than three children.

“We continue to look at today,” Ms. Meloni has said, “not realizing we won’t have a tomorrow.”

But despite billions of euros earmarked for nursery schools by the European Union, Italy has delayed the start date on 1,857 nurseries and 333 kindergartens, the majority in Italy’s poorer south. If Italy fails to start building by the latest deadline, June 2023, it risks losing the money.

Mr. Scaramuzza, the centenarian, said he hoped some of the new nurseries would also share space with nursing homes, as his does.

“Not having had children or grandchildren,” he said, “here, I have a great number of grandchildren.”

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