Analysis. The number of foreigners arriving in Italy is only slightly up, mainly because of crises in the Middle East and Africa. But the media and right-wing politicians complained of a “white decline.”

Italian demographic data show ‘migrant invasion’ is propaganda

There is no foreign “invasion.” A new report published by Italy’s statistical research body, Istat, on demographic indicators for 2017 belies the racist propaganda that has entered the mainstream ahead of the March 4 elections, thanks to the uncritical amplification by major television and other media.

There are 5,650,000 foreigners residing in Italy as of Jan. 1, accounting for 8.4 percent of the population. In 2017, the figure was 8.3 percent. The increase of 18,000 people represents a rate of 3.6 for every 1,000. Since 2016, there have been only modest levels of change in the number of foreign people, especially compared to the aughts.

The slowdown in the growth of the foreign population is due, the National Institute of Statistics explains, to the acquisition of Italian citizenship by 35,000 in 2006 and 202,000 in 2016. It’s a sign of a progressing, but still incomplete, integration that would coincide with a “mature phase of immigration,” Istat says. The data must also be weighed in light of the (unintentional) material offered to racist propaganda on the one hand and security on the other.

In the last five years new arrivals have increased by 337,000, largely due to the exacerbation of crises in Africa and the Middle East. In the meantime emigration has decreased. About 153,000 foreigners have emigrated — 4,000 fewer than in 2016. The shift, Istat hypothesizes, has increased in the last year, especially after the announcement of Brexit. Great Britain, together with Germany, is the country of emigration for young Italians. The nationalist anti-immigrant jolt which also led to Britain’s EU farewell produced a backlash: immigration decreased by 80,000 (down 12 percent). This has curbed the flight of Italians and may have increased the arrival of migrants.

Beyond the populist and racist examples, the dynamics linked to the mobility of humans are always complex and caused by precise geopolitical and economic events, as well as psychological and social factors.

This situation is grafted onto a society wounded by crisis and precariousness, screwed up in negative demographic dynamics that concern Italian citizenship. The population continues its descent: today it is equal to 55,430,000 residents. Down 113,000 from the previous year. The country appears today channelled into a spiral of natural decline that, in the light of low birth levels, not only appears difficult to reverse but opens the way to the concrete prospect of a further gap in births to deaths in the years to come. The birth rate decreased for the ninth consecutive year. In 2008 it was 577,000. This decrease is consistent across much of Italy, especially prescient in Lazio (-7 percent) and Marche (-5.3 percent).

The result is we are an increasingly aging country (45 years on average). Almost 23 percent of the population is 65 or older, 64.1 percent is 15 to 64 and only 13.4 percent is under 15. Compared to 10 years ago, the distances between the most representative age classes grew. Consequentially, intergenerational rates are also gradually changing. The index of dependence of the elderly, for example, is now at 56.1 percent, a 4 percent increase from 2008.

Istat also addresses a question of life and freedom for women: motherhood. The progressive shift forward of their “reproductive calendar” (a questionable biopolitical category applied to statistics and a productivistic idea of life) is apparently the cause of the decrease of 900,000 women residents in the 15-50 age class compared to 2008, and 200,000 less in the last year alone. Meanwhile, the average age of these women grew from 33.8 years in 2008 to 35.2 years in 2018. Historically, it is a recognized dynamic. Much like in other Western countries, women postpone the choice of having children in the second part of their potential reproductive life. The average age of childbirth has continuously increased in Italy since 1980 from 27.5 to 31.8 in 2017.

With March 4 in sight, the Istat report became the object of electoral speculation. Lega Nord said it showed Italy was setting “new immigrant records.” Minister of Health Beatrice Lorenzin — infamous for “Fertility Day” — called for “urgent policies on birth.” The Democratic Party made sure to keep to the center of centrist politics. And throughout the day there was a debate about “white decline.”

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