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Rome Business School study: The brain drain and the increase in the elderly population. Italy is the oldest country in a Europe that is less and less populated by young people.

  • In Italy a real demographic crisis is underway, with a particular criticality linked to the flight of young people abroad (2.1% of the population in the last year alone) which, combined with a very low fertility rate (1, 29 children per woman) and high levels of longevity (the average age in Italy is 47), make our country the “oldest” nation in Europe.
  • According to the study, to improve these negative trends it will be necessary to adequately invest in the funds allocated by the PNRR, improve the capacities of national infrastructures and institutions, create a favorable environment for those having children and focus on the development of innovative, digital and sustainable policies. .
  • The average age in Europe is 44 years, 24 years older than the African continent.
  • The European population is expected to decline by up to 10% in at least 26 countries by 2050

Rome Business School published the study: “Demographic changes. Analysis of a determining factor for sustainable economic growth, social resilience and technological development “. The research, curated by Valerio Mancini, Director of the Research Center of the Rome Business School and Katerina Serada, Founder of the SDG Hub (Center for Sustainable Economies and Innovation), focuses on demographic changes in Italy and in the world, analyzing how this important factor structural can determine the course of economic growth, innovation and the transition to a digital, green and resilient economy.

To study demographic changes and their profound impact, the research proposes an analysis of the latest global trends and takes stock of Italy’s weaknesses and criticisms: brain drain and being the oldest country in Europe.

The Italian demographic malaise: the brain drain, the aging of the population and the low birth rate

It is expected that in 2021 in Italy, for the first time, the new born will fall below the threshold of 400 thousand, a figure that we would have reached in 2032, according to ISTAT. Without the appropriate interventions, Italy will lose approximately 6.8 million inhabitants over the next 45 years. A figure that today would be equivalent to a loss of about 11% of the total population. Furthermore, an increase in the population in old age by 2050 is estimated to be about 6 million, coming to represent over a third of the population (from the current 22.4%, they would represent between 33.8% and 37.9% in the 2050).

To aggravate this situation, it is the Italians who leave the country. Over the last 10 years, almost one million inhabitants have “canceled” themselves from the municipal registries for expatriation abroad, with an increasing pace over time that has seen over 100 thousand units per year already starting from 2015. In 2020 they are 112,218 new members were registered in the foreign registry (AIRE data). This is a significant annual flow (2.1% of the total population), but which is decreasing, also due to the pandemic and the first effects of Brexit, for the first time in many years.

Young people are the first to want to leave, especially for reasons related to professional growth. The average age of emigrants is 33 years for men and 30 for women, one in five emigrants is under the age of 20: a real “brain drain” if we consider that about 30% of these have a university degree. This factor is very negative for the future and the economy of the country, because if the forecasts of ISTAT are valid and between 2020 and 2040 the Italian population will drop by about 4 million, the national GDP will also fall by 6, 9%. If we then take into consideration the fact that it is mainly the population of working age that is falling, then the decline in GDP will even reach -18.6%. In actual terms it represents a loss of investments of around € 25-30 billion per year.

At the level of destination countries, young Italians who go abroad mainly land in EU countries (2.2 million). The country hosting the largest number of Italians is Germany (38%), followed by Great Britain (14%), France (13%), Spain (10%) and Belgium (6%). Overall, 60% of the expatriation of Italian citizens is concentrated in these five countries. Among the non-European countries, the main destinations are Brazil, Argentina, the United States, Australia and Canada.

In Italy, according to the “IDOS Study and Research Center”, Italians residing in the peninsula currently amount to 54 million 935 thousand in 2020, with a reduction of about 240 thousand units (-4.3 per thousand) on the previous year. With the sole exception of Trentino-Alto Adige, all regions are affected by a process of reducing the population of Italian citizenship. The issue particularly affects some demographically depressed or more aging areas: Basilicata (-11.3 per thousand), Molise (-10.4) and Calabria (-9.1) in the South, but also regions in the North of Country like Liguria (-8.7).

Furthermore, according to Eurostat, in Italy there are 2.8 people of working age (16-65) for each person of retirement age. France and Spain have 3.3 and 3.4. Although the share of young people up to 14 years of age, which today make up 13% of the total population, will remain around 12% in 2065, that of individuals of active age (15-64 years of age) will, on the contrary, decline. considerable, equal to -9 percentage points (from 64% to less than 55%). At the same time, the population aged 65 and over will see its consistency grow by more than ten percentage points (from the current 23% to over 33%). The conspicuous decline expected in the economically vital part of the population, to the advantage of the over 65 year old, brings out clearly the problem of the sustainability of a national pension system.

The very low birth rate in Italy is added to the brain drain and the increase in the elderly population.

The latest ISTAT data (2021) sound an alarm that must make us reflect on the future balance of our country from a demographic, social and economic point of view. Also according to ISTAT, in 2021 there was an extraordinary drop in the frequency of births below the symbolic threshold of one thousand units per day: the average is 992 births per day, compared to 1,159 in January 2020. Over the course of 12 years it has gone from a relative peak of 577 thousand births to 404 thousand (-30%). The birth rate problem is present everywhere: births, which on a national scale are 3.8% lower than 2019, are 11.2% lower in Molise, 7.8% in Valle d’Aosta, 6, 9% in Sardinia. Among the provinces, there are only 11 (out of 107) that show an increase in births: Verbano-Cusio Ossola, Imperia, Belluno, Gorizia, Trieste, Grosseto, Fermo, Caserta, Brindisi, Vibo Valentia and South Sardinia.

Other relevant data are the increase in the average age for having children (which in 2019 reached a record figure of 32.1 years) and the fertility rate of 1.29 children per woman (just before Spain and Malta). The data show that today more than ever, and after the experience of the pandemic, the choice of having children is subject to the possibilities of support and economic security.

Europe: an increasingly “old” continent

Between 1 January 2020 and 1 January 2021, the EU population decreased by 312,000 people and further reductions of up to 10% are expected, in at least 26 countries by 2050. The largest decline was observed in Italy (-384 thousand, corresponding to -0.6% of its population) followed by Romania (-143 thousand, -0.7%) and Poland (-118 thousand, -0.3%). In addition to the reduction of the population, the continent is characterized by the increase in the average age of citizens: in 2020 it reached the record level of 44 years (24 years more than the African continent).

As for the median age, the highest in 2020 among member states was observed in Italy (47 years), Germany and Portugal (both 46) and it is estimated that by 2070 30.3% of the European population should be at least 65 years old (compared to 20.3% in 2019). On the other hand, the share of young people (0 to 19 years old) in the EU was 20% in 2020, a decrease of 3% compared to 2001.

If we compare 1 January 2020 with 1 January 2021, there is an increase of 534,000 deaths in the EU (+11%), from 4.7 million to 5.2 million, reflecting the impact of the pandemic from COVID-19. The number of deaths increased in all Member States during this period, with the largest increases in Italy (111.7k, +18%), Spain (75.5k, +18%) and Poland (67.6k, +17%).

This negative demographic trend sees the sharp decrease in the working age population and the share of the European population decrease compared to the world one: in 2070 it will represent just under 4%.

How to act?

A real demographic crisis is underway in Italy, with a particular criticality linked to the flight of young people abroad which, combined with a very low birth rate and high levels of longevity, make our country the “oldest” nation of a continent, Europe, less and less populated by young people.

According to Valerio Mancini and Katerina Serrada, in this regard it will therefore be necessary to adopt policies aimed at significantly reducing the losses in terms of human capital that emigration entails. In this context, it will be crucial to adequately invest the funds allocated by the PNRR within the pre-established times, improve the capacities of national infrastructures and institutions, create a favourable environment for those having children, focus on the development of innovative policies, on the increase and improvement of digital technologies, on the support of circular businesses, on the research and development sector, on the optimization of the use of natural resources and, finally, on investments in some sectors particularly connected to the current demographic trend, such as the silver economy.