Becoming parents today 2014: Report on fertility/infertility in Italy

A picture of Italian society with multiple facets.

This is possibly the key finding from “Becoming parents today – Report on fertility/infertility in Italy“, the CENSIS survey commissioned by the IBSA Foundation to get deeper and broader insights than just medical stats, a goal that was widely attained. The survey results reveal a much more varied picture of Italy’s public opinion and greater openness in the attitude of the Italian population than it was expected. Italians are largely in favour of both in vivo and in vitro fertilisation when the eggs and sperm come from the couple (85% and 73% of respondents, respectively). Public opinion is instead divided when it comes to using donor eggs or sperm with 40% of Italians favourable to use of donor gametes, a percentage that declines to 30% among Catholics who regularly go to church and rises to 65% among non-believers. 35% of Italians are in favour of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (29% among Catholics), only 14% are favourable to surrogacy (using a surrogate parent) and just 9.5% to pre-conception sex selection.
Italians apparently have overcome the idea of the traditional family as many accept that people who are not part of a traditional, heterosexual couple can have children as well: single parents for 46% of respondents and same-sex couples for 29% of them. Religious beliefs, in these instances, have limited weight as the percentages of Catholics accepting this, are 43% and 23%, respectively.
The most striking data is the continuing birth decline. In 2013 in Italy, the birth rate was down 3.7% on the prior year, from 9 births to 8.5 births per 1,000 people, dropping to its lowest level since records began in 1862. This in spite of population having grown over time, progress being made by medicine and the contribution given by resident immigrants. Italians are largely aware of the country’s birth rate issue: 88% of those polled knew Italians do not procreate much. The majority of respondents attributed this to financial tightness: 83% of them believe the economic crisis makes it more difficult for people to decide to have children. The percentage tops 90% among people aged up to 34 years, i.e. the younger generations who are hardest hit by the crisis and are of an age when the decision of having a child is commonly made.
The survey also helped bring out in the open the knowledge gaps regarding infertility which is a theme concerning everyone. 45% of people surveyed admitted they do not know much about it and an additional 15% confirmed they are not informed. Respondents were largely uncertain about the causes of infertility. Half of those polled said there is no prevailing male or female cause, and 33% of them believe in the majority of instances infertility is caused by problems of both partners. Among the causes the most cited one was the most general one, stress (31%), followed by female factors, i.e. structural problems or abnormalities (21%) or hormonal or ovulation issues (15%). 11% of respondents indicated male factors and 6% seminal fluid defects. 23% of respondents though were unable to name a cause. Much higher (81%) is the percentage of respondents who think Italians know little or nothing at all about assisted reproduction technologies.
These are the main findings of the survey. They provide insights and food for thought about themes the Foundation intended to bring to public attention. We are therefore particularly glad of the broad media coverage the survey and its findings received.

click on the image to download the report (Italian version)