Italy is in a demographic winter, with a birth rate considerably below the 2.1 rate needed for a stable population. In fact, the birth rate in Italy has fallen for the 15th year in a row and now sits at 1.20 children per woman.

That is, except for Balzano and the Alto Adige-South Tyrol area surrounding it. There, the birth rate has stayed stable for decades, bucking the trend in the rest of the country, and indeed, the trend in most of Western Europe.

The key, say experts, is that the provincial government has, over time, developed a thick network of family-friendly benefits, going far beyond the one-off bonuses for babies that the national government offers. Those benefits include discounted preschools, savings at the local grocery store on baby supplies, public transportation, after-school activities and summer camps. The province also has gotten creative in finding and supporting a variety of options for child care, including a program that allow educators to turn their apartments into small, certified day care centers.

Italy has generous parental leave policies that mandate that mothers must take five months of maternity leave and that at least one month should be before the birth of the child. Fathers can take up to 10 days of paternity leave in the five months immediately following the birth of their child. Parents also can take additional time off as their child grows. For example, all parents can choose to take up to six months off before their child turns three, and parents can opt to take five months away from work to spend with their children before they turn 12.

There is straight cash assistance, as well. The national Italian government has a child benefit that pays a monthly stipend to families in Italy based on the number of children they have, plus the parent’s income. Additionally, the Alto Adige province pays 200 euros per child each month until the child turns three.

According to The New York Times, experts say the province’s sustained and reliable financial commitment to families matters more than the short-term baby bonuses that Italy’s unstable national governments have favored for decades. “The difference is that it has a constant investment, over the years, unlike most national policies that are one-offs,” said Agnese Vitali, a demographer at the University of Trento. “Nobody plans to have children based on one-off policies.”

“If we don’t invest money in families, there is no future for any of us,” said Waltraud Deeg, a former province council member and an architect of some of its family policies. “The family is a long-term project, so policies need to be long term, too.”

It’s important to note that Bolzano has been implementing long-term family-friendly policies for years. Other areas of the world, including other areas in Italy, have not been successful in reversing declining birth rates.

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Taiwan has spent more than $3 billion trying to get its citizens to have more children. Austria lengthened its mandated maternity leave. Germany increased investment in child care and early education, and then, in 2013, affirmed that every child over the age of 1 had the right to a spot in a public day care. Other countries have tried direct payments to parents: Russia began offering a one-time sum of about $7,000 to families with more than two kids. In 2019, Hungary introduced a loan of around $30,000 to newlyweds. If they have three children, the loan is forgiven.

Neither the United States nor Utah is immune. In fact, Utah’s decline in fertility rates was the seventh-fastest in the nation, according to a 2022 report by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. Utah now sits at 1.92 children per woman, below replacement levels. As Lois Collins reported for the Deseret News in 2021, many of our current social policies are rooted in taking care of the aging population, with little attention given to growing families.

Pam Perlich, then-director of demographic research for the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, said, “Really, it comes down to support for young families and restructuring the institutions of work and home life in a way that younger people will feel economically secure in having more kids.”

The Utah Legislature has made some recent changes supporting Utah families, but it also killed a number of other family-friendly bills in the 2024 legislative session, including a proposed pilot program vetted during the interim and prioritized in budget requests to convert a vacant state building into a licensed child care center. One wonders if the now yearslong decline in Utah’s birth rate will inspire legislators to look for policy solutions, or if the decline will continue, as it has in other areas of the world.