Going grey: Italian regions in the face of future demographic trends

June 26, 2017


The ageing of the population continues in all Italian regions, representing a risk for long-term economic and social growth. Coordinated and effective actions aimed at supporting active ageing are required to help territories face the demographic challenge


It is common knowledge that the Italian population is one of the oldest in the world, second only to the Japanese population. And if in the ranking list of the incidence of people over the age of 64 drafted on 284 regions of the advanced countries the first 7 are Japanese, Liguria is placed in eighth position while Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Toscana, Umbria, Piedmont are positioned slightly below, in any case within the top 20. At a global level, the ageing of the population is not expected to stop in coming decades and Italy is no exception: according to the demographic forecasts conducted by ISTAT [1], 20 years from now the share of people over the age of 64 in the Italian population will shift from the current 22% to 31%, with an absolute increase of 4.8 million people in this age group. 

Source: OECD and UN

Sardinia, Liguria and Friuli-Venezia Giulia the oldest regions in 2037

All regions in the country shall take part in this trend, although in some the phenomenon will be more marked. For instance, by 2037, Veneto, Puglia and Basilicata, shall be characterised by an incidence of older population higher than the national average, whereas they currently fall below this value. In the same year, a number of regions in the South (Calabria, Campania and Sicily) and the two autonomous provinces shall continue to show a level of the indicator lower than the Italian average, but all these areas will undergo a relatively broad increase in the share. Conversely, the situation will be better in Lombardy and Lazio, whose attractive prospects from other Italian regions and from abroad alike will continue to maintain the share of people over the age of 64 below the Italian average. 20 years from now Sardinia, Liguria and Friuli-Venezia Giulia shall be rising to the top of the list of the oldest regions, with approximately 1 person over the age of 64 in every 3 residents.

And that is not all. The three areas will also enjoy the primacy of the great elders (individuals aged 85 and over) representing between 6.5% and 6.1% of the population as compared to the national average of 5.2%. Over the next 20 years, the incidence of the great elders on the population is expected to increase everywhere, with peaks in growth compared to the current level equal to 90% in Sardinia, 80% in Puglia, 70% in Lombardia and Campania, the latter being the sole region among those mentioned that will continue to display a level of the indicator lower than the one of Italy. 

The risks of the growing weight of inactive elders

These demographic prospects are interwoven with the economic and social scenario. First of all, due to the repercussions on the labour supply, characterised by an active population that will continue to decline because of the growing weight of inactive elders. Secondly, an older population will require a greater amount of resources to be allocated to social spending (specifically, pension and health care expenditure). Hence, ageing may represent a further obstacle hindering the development of a few Southern regions in which boosting the economy is increasingly necessary to stem the loss of population and to contribute, as a result, to restoring the balance in its structure. Furthermore, ageing can contribute to curbing the growth of areas such as Liguria in which, for many years now, beneath the economic performance lacking momentum, there is also one of the oldest populations on global scale and it may, ultimately, represent a risk also in structurally more solid realities such as Veneto. 

Source: Istat

Need for policies aimed at the support of active ageing

To mitigate the impact of such dynamics, it is necessary to embrace policies aimed at the promotion and support of active ageing, as well as to provide for and encourage forms of social innovation aimed at increasing the participation of the elderly in the economic and social life with a view to improving their quality of life and prolonging their independence. In this sense, although Italy seems to be falling behind the principal European countries, this path is starting in various regions, as shown by the host of initiatives oriented in this direction at local level [3]. However, in the long term, these solutions should be standardised so that territories might be able to face the ongoing demographic trends.

[1] Median scenario.
[2] For a recent overview of regional laws or proposed laws, reference should be made to Invecchiamento attivo: un percorso da costruire by Principi, Lamura and Socci, 20 June 2017.
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