What's behind rise of Italy's low divorce rate

Updated 2018-05-02 17:27:15 Xinhua

Long home to one of the industrialized world's lowest divorce rates, Italy has seen the percentage of marriages ending prematurely rise dramatically in recent years.

Observers told Xinhua that marriage in the country was going through a phase other European countries passed through earlier.

The divorce rate in Italy is still lower than in other large European countries. In 2016, there were 1.6 divorces in Italy for every 1,000 inhabitants. That is lower than in Britain (1.7 per 1,000), France (1.9), Germany (2.1), or Spain (2.2), according to statistics from Eurostat released in April.

Only small- or medium-sized European countries had a rate lower than Italy: the lowest is in Malta (0.9), which, with only 450,000 citizens, has about the same population as Bologna, Italy's seventh largest city.

In other parts of the world, the rate is 2.8 in China, 3.2 in the United States, and 5.1 in Russia, according to government statistics in those countries.

But while divorce rates in most countries are either stable or slowly drifting higher over time, in Italy the rise has been dramatic, more than doubling from 0.7 divorces per 1,000 residents in a decade. Until 1970, it was completely illegal for a couple to legally divorce each other in Italy.

Divorce in Italy became easier starting in 2016. Before then, an Italian couple that wished to divorce had to separate for at least three years.

Under the current law, that has been reduced to six months in cases when both partners agree to a divorce or 12 months when only one partner is seeking to end the marriage, according Gian Ettore Gassani, an attorney specializing on family law and the author of a book on Italian divorce trends.

"Italians today are less traditional than previous generations," Gassani told Xinhua. "But what is happening isn't unique. The country is just falling into line with the rest of Europe."

Gassani said rules requiring lengthy separations were not effective in avoiding divorce, noting that in only 2 percent of cases did couples reconsider their plans during the separation period.

Commentators said there were factors at play beyond the change in law -- including couples marrying later in life, the dramatic rise in the number of Italian women with professional careers, and the economic necessity of both partners in a marriage to work long hours.

"There used to be a stereotype of the Italian mother who was focused only on family," Gassani said. "Now, it's increasingly career first and the marriage second."

According to Chiara Vendramini, a psychologist and president of GeA, an association that counsels divorced couples on family issues, a lack of social stigma attached to divorce is a major factor.

"It used to be looked at as a scandal when a couple divorced," Vendramini said in an interview. "Now, the children of the first generation of divorcees are getting married themselves. It follows reason that what was impossible for their grandparents and unusual for their parents is an option they easily consider."

Vendramini went on: "We can say that in Italy, people now see more than one possible model for the family."

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