Istat, the demographic collapse of Southern Italy

In 2030, residents of Southern Italy will fall below the critical threshold of 20 million inhabitants for the first time

Istat’s latest focus on territorial differences in Italy highlights how delays in the South are increasing the risks of excessive and non-reversible demographic impoverishment. Between 2011 and 2020 there was the first drop in population in the recent history of the South (-642,000 inhabitants; +335,000 in the Centre-North). With unchanged trends, in 2030 the residents will fall below the critical threshold of 20 million inhabitants for the first timewith a reduction on a ten-year basis of approximately 4 times compared to the Centre-North (-5.7% and 1.5%).

Population loss is mainly concentrated in the younger age groups: in the South and Islands, residents up to the age of 14 exceeded 3.17 million in 2011, down to 2.64 million in 2020 (-16.9%), with a forecast of 1.86 million units by 2050 (slightly more of mid-2011). This corresponds to a simultaneous increase in the weight of the elderly population. It is expected that around 2035 the average age of the population of the South and Islands will exceed that of the Centre-North, which was clearly lower only a few years ago.

The physiological demographic pyramid would be altered, with an erosion of the youth component, a growing weight of the over-65s and a progressive loss in the working-age population. This could lead to the disappearance of the function of reservoir of active population, performed over time by these regions in support of the more developed areas of the country. Furthermore, it would have a negative effect on the ability to create income (given the contraction of the workforce), an increase in the care needs of the elderlya simultaneous reduction in the demand for other public and private services for the youth component (educational, recreational) and a tendency to fall in tax revenuesnecessary to finance local welfare.

The results of the delays in the South are accentuating the fragility of its socio-economic structure through a sort of “demographic tsunami”. If it is not possible to put a stop, the current trends can lead to a progressive and unsustainable involution of the human capital of a large part of the South.

As far as internal movements are concerned, starting from the second half of the 1990s it is noted a recovery of substantial extra-regional flows, above all along the traditional South-North route (mainly towards the North-East). The peak at the beginning of the 2000s fades slightly in the following five years, and then increases in intensity throughout the pre-pandemic phase. With regard to the general population, from 2010 to 2019 the outgoing movements from the South to the Centre-North involved a total of 1.1 million people, with a negative balance of over 500 thousand residents.

The important gaps in the value of the wealth produced, in the level of education and in the employment rate of young people push to new migratory phenomena that remain an unresolved constant and, unlike in the past, a threat to the future of the Mezzogiorno.

These phenomena, if not managed urgently, can lead the South towards a radical decline in the functionality and sustainability of its social structure.