Toward an unwanted dividend? Fertility decline and the North–South divide in Italy, 1952–2018

  • Ilaria Zambon
  • Kostas Rontos
  • Cecilia Reynaud
  • Luca SalvatiEmail author


Fertility, a key process shaping long-term population dynamics, has reflected demographic transitions and responds—more or less rapidly—to economic downturns. Assuming a non-neutral role of space on birth rates, the present study investigates the spatio-temporal evolution (1952–2018) of total fertility rate (TFR) at regional scale in Italy, a country with intense decline of births and enlarged socioeconomic divides between the wealthiest Northern regions and the most disadvantaged Southern regions. A progressive reduction of the traditional North–South fertility divide was observed in Italy since the 1980s with a rapid decline of TFR. Results of descriptive statistics and time series analysis indicate that regional fertility in Italy was increasingly associated with economic downturns. Considering the spatial response of birth rates to economic expansions and recessions, heterogeneous regional fertility trends underlie more individualistic behaviors that reflect a different propensity to childbearing in recent times. With both expansion and recession, fertility rates in Northern Italy—thanks to the contribution of internal and international migrations—were responding more rapidly to economic downturns than in Southern Italy—a disadvantaged region with a more stagnant population, emigration and aging, reverting the typical framework of the 1950s.


Economic downturns Spatial clustering Total fertility rate Mediterranean Europe 



Authors did not received any research fund.

Author contributions

Authors contributed equally to the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights

Research did not involved Human Participants and/or Animal.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ilaria Zambon
    • 1
  • Kostas Rontos
    • 2
  • Cecilia Reynaud
    • 3
  • Luca Salvati
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences (DAFNE)Tuscia UniversityViterboItaly
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of the AegeanMitiliniGreece
  3. 3.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Roma TreRomeItaly
  4. 4.Italian Council for Agricultural Research and Economics (CREA)ArezzoItaly

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