The birth rate and the “family wage”


The article from  the Alfonsiana Academy Blog

The chronic problem of the birth rate decline in Italy has recently been the subject of numerous studies which identify multiple factors at the origin of one of the lowest fertility levels in Europe. The formation of a family, however, is favoured by circumstances of planning and economic and social stability, which is why occupational instability ( Brilli – Fanfani – Piazzalunga, 2024 ) plays an important role in hindering decisions on fertility in a decidedly dramatic situation.

Recently two researchers, using data on the “Italian workforce survey” provided by Eurostat for the period from 2000 to 2020, examined the correlation between job instability and the probability of having a first or further child in Italy ( Scherer – Brilli , 2024 ) and found that individual employment instability, such as temporary work or unemployment, negatively influences the probability of having a child for both men and women, regardless of demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. In particular, both unemployment and fixed-term contracts are associated with significantly lower odds of seeing a birth, compared to those with a permanent contract. Instability is relevant especially for the first birth and to a lesser extent for the second ones, while the progression towards further births is less sensitive to the work situation.

Fertility is usually a couple’s decision and is influenced by the work situation of both individuals involved. However, two significant aspects emerge from the analysis.

1) In a couple context, the working situation of women has much more influence on the birth of a child than that of men, an observation which leads to the inference that the working situation of the woman cannot be considered simply as a source of useful income to integrate the family budget in which the working and economic situation of the male partner, as head of the family, is the main economic resource. 

2) Women’s inactivity proves to be an important predictive factor for motherhood, given that it contradicts the idea that female employment is now a prerequisite for parenthood.

In light of these considerations, the calls and indications of the social Magisterium of the Church regarding the right salary remain very appropriate and can also be extended to the situation of job instability because, in the end, it is always a question of income insufficiency.

Since  Rerum novarum , therefore, the payment of a salary to the worker that does not correspond to the criteria of justice has been contested, and the reality of a conflict between capital and labor has been denounced in which “the workers put their forces at the disposal of the group of entrepreneurs who, guided by the principle of maximum production profit, sought to establish the lowest possible wage for the work performed by the workers” ( Laborem exercens , n. 11), generating disadvantageous social conditions for everyone. For this reason, it calls for respect for the criteria of justice and the payment of a family salary  (cf.  Quadragesimo anno , n. 72;  Laborem exercens , n. 19) which, in addition to guaranteeing fair remuneration for the wealth produced, promotes the common good of society which today, among other things, is seriously threatened by the aging population.

Therefore, the determination of the salary is not considered fair when “a single measure far from reality” is used (Quadragesimo anno , n. 68; “the single measure” alludes to the law of supply and demand ), “exploiting the workers, like simple machines, without caring about their souls” so that if “the inert matter leaves the factory ennobled, people instead become corrupted and debased” (ibid. , n. 134). In fact, one cannot rightly evaluate “human activity where its social and individual nature is not taken into account” or the effects in favor of the social body where each component depends on one another, coming “almost to form a single thing” ( ibid., n. 70).

Secondly, taking into due consideration the economic condition of the company (ibid., n. 73-74), “from this double character, inherent in the very nature of human work” it follows first of all that the employee “must be given a salary that is enough to support him and his family” (ibid., n. 71-72). In fact, although it is right that each member of the family “each according to his strength, contributes to the common support […] it is a terrible disorder that the mothers of the family, due to the scarcity of the father’s salary, are forced to practice a lucrative art […] thus neglecting the care and education of their children” (ibid., n. 72). In fact, “the forced abandonment of such commitments, for remunerative gain outside the home, is incorrect from the point of view of the good of society and the family, when it contradicts or makes difficult these primary aims of the parental mission” (Laborem exercens, n.19).

Finally, it should not be forgotten that “the quantity of the salary must be reconciled with the public economic good,” both in the sense of allowing the employee to set aside part of the salary “to gradually reach a modest wealth” and in the sense that “those who can and want to work, are given the opportunity to work,” because “it is contrary to social justice that, in order to look after one’s own advantage without having regard to the common good, workers’ wages are too low or too high” (Quadragesimo anno, n. 75), without considering, then, the correlation between the wage level and the formation of the prices “at which the products of the various arts such as agriculture, industry and the like are sold” (ibid. , n. 76).

These indications deserve to be reflected for an authentic demographic relaunch.

Leonardo Salutati