Editor’s Note: Lobos Abroad is a regular column written by Daily Lobo staff members studying in a different country this semester.
“Ay! Cavalo!”  My driver gestures at a lunatic driver by smacking his head with his hand and flinging it out toward the windshield. Between cursing at other drivers and making hand gestures, he tells me that he is Italian but lived in England for many years.

Between his English and my limited Italian, we are able to talk about his family and some of Italy’s economic problems.
Upon my arrival to Rome, it appeared that all I had imagined seemed true but understated. For instance, the cobblestone streets can easily make a bad first impression: Wearing high heels is “hazardous,” parents have to look for strollers with rubber tires, and car tire maintenance can also be a burden.

But each step I take on those cobblestone streets is a step through time. The ancient scenery lining the streets is awe-inspiring; each thing is better than the last.

“Mi chiamo Paulo.” My driver picks me up from the airport to take me to the youth hostel. We talk as he weaves in and out of lanes and avoids crashing into Vespas swerving into our lane and then back.

He tells me about the substandard driving in Italy, which I have already seen firsthand. I will not be renting a car. He tells me about his family. He has a wife and a daughter. He talks about his friend who also has a wife and a daughter. And then he goes on about his other friend with a wife and a son.

Wait a minute. I am in Rome, the city where 90 percent of people are Roman Catholics, according to the CIA World Factbook.  
My idea of Italian Roman Catholics included large families with at least 10
children. Whatever happened to the
typical Italian family I’ve seen so much in movies, with children running around everywhere while their mother and extended family are preparing for a feast? Am I completely misguided?

According to the National Institute of Statistics, Italian families with six or more members have dropped from 3.4 percent in 1971 to 2.8 percent in 1991. Now, in 2010 more than 20 percent of Italy’s population is 65 years or older, and Italian women have one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, according to the world index.

“No big families anymore, there is no money here and it’s not serious yet,” the cab driver said.
Rome’s unemployment rate hovers around 8.5 percent, the highest it has been since 2004, and shifting Italian values has played a role in the reduction of childbirths.

Women are now choosing between caring for 10 children and entering the work force, with a female employment rate of 45 percent. Women have less time to have children, and many employers are hesitant to hire women with children. The legalization of abortion in 1978 has also contributed to the declining birthrate. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Italians have between 10 and 19 abortions per 1,000 pregnancies.  

Still, most countries facing a birthrate decline see opportunity for growth in immigration. Italy, however, has strict immigration policies and will perhaps look at birthrate incentives as a solution in years to come. Other countries facing the same issue are implementing new incentives, including longer paid maternity leave for working mothers, as well as a short paid leave for fathers. If Italy does not take action, it will eventually become a worldwide nursing home destination.