If you are thinking about having children in Italy, you probably need to sit down in front of a Google spreadsheet and first start playing with some numbers. Among the obvious costs associated with children (adequate housing, food, clothes, toys, possibly private schooling) is the glaringly large figure that is the cost of childcare, especially for those families in which both parents work. New parents can expect years of financial juggling—unless there is a nonna or nonno in the family who can come to the rescue.
Both state-run and private asili nido (nurseries) take children from the ages of 3 months to 3 years, generally from 7:30am to 6pm. Places are not guaranteed in these asili nido , which cost approximately 7,000 euro a year (about 600 euro per month for a full day, for five days, plus about 40 euro per month for food (although state-run nurseries usually charge on a sliding scale of household income).
From the ages of 3 to 6, children may attend the Scuola d’Infanzia (formerly Scuola Materna). State schools are free (but you may have to provide such necessities as toilet paper and paper and pens), but places, which must be requested, are not guaranteed in these preschools, which usually run from 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. And then, at age 6, full-time school begins, with hours similar to those of the Scuola d’Infanzia. At age 11, children start at the Scuola Media, usually Monday to Saturday, and are out of school by one in the afternoon.
Many children do not get places at the nurseries or preschools, and even if they do, the hours may not coincide with parents’ work hours. Then there is the matter of taking the child to school, picking him or her up, and after-school care (or, for older children, activities) until at least one parent is finished working for the day.
Now, more so than in the past, Italy is using its nonni (grandparents) to provide childcare that might otherwise put families under economic strain. Data from Istituto Ricerche Economiche e Sociali showed that in 2010, Italy was home to nearly 7 million grandparents, 6 million of whom were caring, in one way or another for their grandchildren. Over the four-week period of the study, nonni were estimated to be providing between 100 and 200 million hours of childcare. What would that childcare cost if the children’s parents had to hire someone to provide it? Between 495 million and 1,320 million euro.
Silvia Vegetti Finzi, renowned Italian psychologist, social researcher and columnist for Corriere della Sera, notes that the increasing divorce rate in Italy puts further strain on the nonni network, not only in terms of child care but also in terms of financial assistance. Italy’s 12 million people over the age of 65 are relatively healthy and generally economically secure. Moreover, they have extremely strong family values. These nonni, who lived through the tough times of Italy’s infamous 1968 turbulence and who are earning a decent pension, are now helping to pay the household expenses of their adult children and grandchildren. Nonni may even be paying their children’s mortgages, looking after their grandchildren, financing holidays and more. However, the golden goose will not live forever.
Whilst Italy’s nonni are shoring up their families, the country is still drifting towards uncertain economic waters. Someone needs to ensure that their intervention is a short-term (vital and so much appreciated!), emergency measure. This country’s future grandparents may not be made of the same stuff or have the same pensions or savings. The next generation of grandparents will not be retiring at 55 or 60, as so many of the current generation of nonni were able to do. They (we, me!) will not be as available, physically or financially able or possibly as willing to undertake the enormous responsibilities that today’s nonni are. (Finzi points to North America: when the recession hit a fractured society, families fell even further apart rather than joining forces and spreading the burden).
Is there hope? Changing technologies and the ever-decreasing age of new technology developers just might mean that in the future, for the first time ever, teenage nerds and geeks might be earning enough via app sales to support their aging families! Now, wouldn’t that be something to look forward to?