Although the availability of childcare is close to the EU average, leave arrangements and social stereotypes appear to be the cause of many Italian women feeling they have to choose between employment and having children. The results are low female employment rates, a low fertility rate (1.41 children per woman in 2010) and one of the highest proportions of children at risk of poverty in the EU.
In 2010, formal childcare was available to 22% of Italian children under three years of age and to 94% for those aged from three up to school age, compared to 28% and 84% respective averages in the EU. Furthermore, while enrolment in day care for children up to two years old stands at 25%, virtually all three to six year-olds benefit from pre-school education.
Despite this, Italy has the second lowest female employment rate in the EU, after Malta: only 46.5% of women were employed in 2011, compared to an EU average of 58.5%, whereas the employment rate for men (67.5%) was just below the EU average (70.1%).
Parental employment rates for men are among the highest in the EU – 88.1% in 2011 compared to the 86.5% EU average – but below average for women – 51.7% versus 58.9% in the EU as a whole. However, women in work achieve earnings that are much closer to men’s than elsewhere in the EU: the gender pay gap stood at only 5.5% in 2010, compared to the EU average of 16.4%.
Spending on benefits for children and families is very low in Italy: 1.4% of GDP compared to 2.3% in the EU in 2009. ‘Family/child allowances’ constitute the main benefit scheme. The monthly child allowance per family varies from around €10 to €258 depending on the parents’ earnings and the number of family members. It also depends on the number of disabled, widowed, divorced or legally separated persons, or single persons in the family. Low-income families with at least three dependent children receive an allowance of €124 a month.
The at-risk-of poverty rate for children in Italy is one of the highest in the EU. In 2010 it was estimated that 24.7% of children faced the threat of poverty Italians see increased financial support for families as a high political priority: according to a Eurobarometer survey carried out in 2008, 80% of Italians give the highest priority to increased tax advantages for families with children versus 66% in the EU; 74% see increased child allowances as a priority versus 59% in the EU. According to an OECD country note on Italy, the child poverty rate is also above the OECD average of 12%.
Maternity leave lasts for 20 weeks and is paid at 80% of the mother’s latest salary. Public sector employees receive 100% of their earnings. The 20-week period is compulsory but there are two options for taking the leave: 4 weeks before the birth and 16 weeks after or 8 weeks before the birth and 12 after.
During the first eight years of the child’s life, parents are entitled to take parental leave of up to ten months. If the father applies for at least three months of the leave, a further month is granted. However, only six months of parental leave are paid, at 30% of the last salary, and only for children younger than three years of age.
According to a 2006 EU report, a traditional view of gender roles still prevails in Italian society and this is reflected in companies and institutional structures. The report reveals that up to 75% of household and childcare responsibilities are shouldered by women.
In addition, the proportion of women having to leave their job when they are pregnant or when they become mothers remains significant due to employer disapproval of employees’ taking parental leave: 2% of women were dismissed from their job when they became pregnant or after they had given birth and a further 7.6% of women resign.
As a result, take-up of leave remains low among both women and men. According to the report, an Italian national survey showed that only 40% of eligible women and 5% of eligible men take parental leave. Respondents to the survey cited low payment rates during leave, employers’ refusal to grant leave and lack of information, as the main reasons for low take-up.
The information in the country profile was last updated in November 2012.
Several Municipal Centres for Families have been set up in recent years in the region of Emilia Romagna. The centres offer practical services for families with children who face everyday problems, including information on educational, social and health resources and opportunities offered by local authorities to children and families.
There is a particular focus on the needs of young parents, single-parent families, and immigrant and disabled children. The centres offer group discussions, courses and meetings with experts, counselling services, mediation and targeted support for typical family problems of children and teenagers.