Continuing a trend now evident at least since the early seventies, the Italian population first substantially stopped and then reversed (starting from 1993) its natural growth, but does not yet have a negative global balance, thanks to the contribution provided by immigration and by the now very modest repatriation of people already residing abroad. Compared to 56. 556. 911 residents recorded at the 1981 census, which rose to 56 in 1991. 778. 031, in 1998 in Italy resided (according to the registry data)57. 612,615 people, with increases, respectively, of 0, 4 ‰ per year (1981 – 91) and 1, 9 ‰ (1991 – 97). But the rate of natural increase, as mentioned, is now negative: a birth that was the 9, 9 ‰ in 1991, and dropped to 9, 2 in 1997, was met with a more stable mortality rate, of about 9, 8 ‰ in 1991, then attested to 9, 5 ÷ 9, 6, so that the natural balance (1997) has come to mark a – 0, 4 ‰.
It is, clearly, a very limited decrease in absolute terms (the imbalance leads to a reduction of about 30. 000 units per year), and in any case strictly in line with the demographic behavior of most economically advanced countries; however the phenomenon manifested itself, in Italy, in rather clear terms and above all in extremely rapid times, reaching the final phase of the so-called demographic transition in a much shorter period than had occurred in other countries and probably already starting the phase post-transitional, which should lead to a slight but progressive recovery, for a few years, in mortality (due to the disappearance of individuals of advanced age, particularly more numerous today than in the past). If, in fact, infant mortality fell in 1997 to 5.7 ‰ (one third of the value of 25 years earlier), and life expectancy rose in 1998 to about 75 years for males and about 82 for females (values among the most remarkable in the world). always biological limits, upon reaching which population contingents will disappear gradually more and more numerous. Once that phase is over, presumably around 2020, if the birth rate has not resumed a consistent increase and if immigration does not involve more numerous inflows than the current ones, the Italian population will record a rather significant and constant decline, until it stabilizes, around by 2050, about 50 million residents.
The natural trend of the Italian population, in any case, still marks conspicuous regional differentiations: in summary, while in the regions of the Center-North (except Trentino-Alto Adige and Lazio) the decrease is also very marked, up to – 7 ‰ of the Liguria, in all the southern regions there are positive values, up to 5 ‰ increase in Campania: however, even in the South we have practically stationary regions, such as Sardinia, and others in slight decline (Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata).
This last circumstance appears, among others, particularly noteworthy, since it seems to confirm for these four regions a behavior that is fairly different from that typical of the Italian South, as can also be verified in the social and economic field, and increasingly similar to that of central Italy. The demographic dynamics of these regions, that is, appear more controlled and moderate, compared to both the contraction that occurs in the North and the increase that still characterizes the South, indicating in the stability – and not necessarily in the stagnation – a distinctive character that can be decisive from a social and economic point of view. On the other hand, the differentiated demographic behaviors that are found, comparing the large territorial districts of the country, they can only to a modest extent justify the interpretations that the Italian population would like to be in the process of constant ‘southernization’. First of all, it should be noted that the values of the demographic increase (of southern origin) are decidedly low. However, it is true that the secular process which saw the demographic dynamics of the southern regions prevail over those of the northern regions is still underway (although it is probably ending); in other words, at least some of the southern regions do not seem to have completed the demographic transition yet and have proportionately larger numbers of young, reproductive age populations, which presumably will continue to affect the overall dynamics for some time.
Although advancing age is about twice the North than in the South, the phenomenon is now affecting the entire country and at a pace that in recent years has sharply increased, on average, over sixty constituted the ‘ 8, 2 % of the population in 1951 and 12, 3 % in 1991, but even the 16, 8 % in 1996, realizing, in practice, in five years the same increase of the percentage that had accumulated in the preceding forty. In 1995, for the first time, the ‘overtaking’ of the younger population (with less than 15years of age) by the older one (over 65).
Since there are still no signs of a recovery in the birth rate, the main component of the Italian demographic movement should remain, as it has been since the beginning of the 1990s, that of migration, which has so far performed a function of compensating for the natural contraction. The migratory movement fueled by Italian citizens has long been very limited and very different from its traditional composition: already in the 1970s, a number of repatriations was sometimes found higher than that of expatriates, but from 1989 onwards the returns appear to be stable and by far more numerous than expatriates. During the nineties, maintaining the values already observed for the immediately preceding years, there were 55,000 ÷ 60.000 expatriates per year (with destinations for about four fifths in Europe), in the face of more numerous repatriations, but also in the process of reduction after having marked the maximum values at the beginning of the nineties; from about 167. 000 repatriated in 1990, in fact, it dropped to 100. 000 of 1993 (for a positive balance, in the same year, nearly 40. 000 units). At the same time, however, the number of foreign immigrants has increased, approximately to the extent of 1% per year.