Alessandra grew up with countless nephews and nieces. Her father came from an old-fashioned Sardinian family with 13 children. “There were always relatives around me. That was nice.” But she never wanted children herself. Partly because she loves her own space. Partly because she was up against it. “The economic conditions in Italy simply do not allow a family. That‘s why I’ve always been afraid I couldn‘t support a family.”
But her son Tomasso was born two years ago, because you don’t always choose children. He was more than welcome, but Alessandra had just started a beauty salon. She doubted if she should stop. “If you are ambitious, such a large family as my father‘s is impossible.”
These are choices that many young couples in Sardinia have to deal with. Alessandra sits in a small park in the village of Villamassargia with her friend Grace, the only person in her group of friends with whom she can share experiences about young motherhood. “I am 32 and we are the only ones with a child,” says Alessandra. Grace tells why, “All for economic reasons.”
The region around Villamassargia was formerly known as a miner’s region. But that industry has collapsed. So much work is no longer there for young people, who leave massively to the mainland. Those who are left are trying to find work in agriculture, tourism or a combination of both. In short, enough challenges for you can think of a family.
The two young women are even above average in Sardinia with one child. With 0.95 children per family, the island is at the bottom of the list of births in Italy. And this in a country that has been struggling with a declining birth rate for years. In 2019 420,084 children were born in Italy. Never since the unification of the country in 1861 have so few Italians joined. And that record was broken again last year, with only 404,104 births.
Island of the Oldies
“ Sardinia is popularly called ‘the island of the old’,” says Alessandra. And that can be seen in the village square of Villamassargia. It‘s almost empty, except for a few old men doing their morning walk and an older woman walking her dog. The average age in the municipality is 47.7 years. More than two years higher than in the rest of Italy.
Several governments have been trying to do something to stimulate births for years. For example, a baby bonus of 500 euros was introduced in Sardinia and an income-dependent child allowance. But Villamassargia noticed little of it. The population has been shrinking steadily for 20 years. “The bonuses are quite fine in themselves,” says Mayor Debora Porrà. “But services are needed to help young families. And there are not now.”
So she did something contrary. Where child care disappeared on the rest of the island because fewer children are born, she scrapped money to build one. Named after Rosa Parks. “The American Mother of Civil Rights.”
The reception was delivered in 2018. A large rectangular building with lots of greenery around it so that the children can play outside on the many sunny Sardinian days, as you can see in this video:
Today is a special day. Dozens of children watch as two new bunnies are placed in their loft next to the two chickens out there. “Because there is a lot of agriculture around us today, we were able to get the animals. And it’s also a way to get the kids used to the presence of animals,” says the mayor.
But the main function of the reception is work. And according to the mayor, especially for the women. “You give the women the choice to look for a job. That is very important.” Especially in a country where only 49% of women have a job. In the Netherlands, that is 76 percent, so a growing employment rate for women could boost the economy.
Podium for the rabbit hutch
Prime Minister Draghi now also recognises the importance of more childcare, and is going to put some of the European billions of aid into creating more places in the care centre. But Alessandra points to the following problem. “The salaries for young people in Italy are really laughable.” In other words, childcare is a priceless luxury for many young couples.
So Mayor Porrà seizes the special rabbit day to invite some Italian media. Because she signed a letter to the Minister of Education on a provisional stage she put in front of the rabbit hutch. She demands that child care be free for young people. “If you don‘t solve the problem of affordability of childcare, there’s no point in creating more places.”
Alessandra unfortunately had to miss this special day in the shelter. In the morning she delivered Tomasso to theshelter, gave him a big kiss and ran to her car. “I have to go to work!” And she was almost late.