Week 4 Assignment – Italy Health Issue: gender equity and the impact on fertility

Women in Italy are slowly getting closer to the gender equity level with men.  However, having children can hold a woman back from gender equity.  If women are given the same opportunities as men in education and market employment, these opportunities are cutdown when a woman has children (McDonald 2000).  The woman would need more flexibility on work hours and require more benefits to support her children.  Because of this, women may limit the number of children they have resulting in a low fertility level (McDonald 2000).

On a longterm basis cutting down on the number of children a woman gives birth to can bring down the population.  UNICEF’s (2013) definition of total fertility rate is “the number of children that would be born per woman if she were to live to the end of her child-bearing years and bear children at each age in accordance with prevailing age-specific fertility rates.”  As of 2012 Italy’s total fertility rate is 1.5 (UNICEF 2013).  Throughout first world countries the replacement level of the total fertility rate is seen as 2.1 and the “length of the generation” is 30 years (McDonald 2000).  The total fertility rate is below “replacement level” which results in a “population growth rate” close to zero (Chesnais 1996).  If a woman has a low employment status, she is more likely to have children.  In advanced industrial societies where more women work full-time jobs, fertility is below replacement level (Chesnais 1996).  “When a wife works full-time, these effects indicate that the likelihood of second birth is reduced by 120 per cent in Italy” (Cooke 2008). The more children, the less available time a woman has to work.

This can almost be seen as a Catch-22 scenario: If each potential mother has zero to one children she could make more money and be given more benefits and opportunities. However, this could significantly bring down the population 100 years from now (McDonald 2000).  If each of the potential mothers have two or more children the current population could be retained, but the mothers will less frequently be offered a full-time job.  Even if offered she most likely won’t be provided the same benefits provided to a man.

From a cultural (aka medical anthropology) standpoint the political, economic, and social factors have an impact on the medical system.  The economic system alters the salary for a woman living in Italy who has multiple children.  The social system in Italy lacks businesses that will balance a woman’s work with her parenthood creating a “male-breadwinner” model which reinforces a “highly unequal division of household labour,” (Mills et al. 2008).

The World Health Organization (WHO 2015) refers to public health as “all organized measures (whether public or private) to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among the population as a whole”.  Giving birth is seen as a choice, not a disease.  This is not a concern to public health.  If a woman is trying to become pregnant and having trouble doing so, that’s different than choosing to not become pregnant.


Chesnais, Jean-Claude. “Fertility, Family, and Social Policy in Contemporary Western Europe.” Population and Development Review 22.4 (1996): 729-739. Web. 29 Jul. 2015.

Cooke, Lynn Prince.  “Gender Equity and Fertility in Italy and Spain.”  Journal of Social Policy 38.1 (2009): 123-140.  Web.  30 Jul. 2015.

McDonald, Peter.  “Gender Equity, Social Institutions and the Future of Fertility.”  Journal of Population Research 17.1 (2000): 1-16.  Web.  29 Jul. 2015.

Mills, Melinda, et al. “Gender Equity and Fertility Intentions in Italy and the Netherlands.” Demographic Research 18 (2008): 1-25.  Web.  30 Jul. 2015.

“Public Health.”  WHO.int. WHO.int, 2015.  Web.  30 Jul. 2015.

“Statistics.”  UNICEF.org  UNICEF.org, 2013.  Web.  28 Jul. 2015.


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