The history of family policies in Italy begins at the end of the 19th century, although until the advent of fascism these policies consisted mainly of a set of disjointed norms and customs descending from ancient Roman law. The first consolidated public welfare provision, which dates from the fascist period (i.e., from the 1920s), was intended to support dependent working mothers by providing them with economic subsidies, breastfeeding rooms, and childcare services; and by prohibiting work during the last month of pregnancy and until one-and-a-half months after the child’s birth. Economic aid was also provided to large and low-income families through cash transfers and tax deductions (Brienza, 2001).
The Italian constitution of 1948 and subsequent laws on family support addressed individuals rather than family units. In the second part of the 20th century, maternity protection was improved and extended to an increasing number of employees in various work categories. Cash transfers and fiscal benefits were also granted to low-income and large families. Finally, in the 1970s divorce and abortion became legal, and day care services for children under age three began to spread.
Starting in the second half of the 1990s with the so-called Second Republic, the Italian government began to decentralise, and thus turned over these responsibilities to the regions and municipalities. This was the start of a new phase of family promotion and support. Local interventions have included the provision of childcare services, public education, social care, and maternity protection. At the national level, occasional cash benefits for new-borns and fiscal measures for disadvantaged people (disabled, single parents, children, and low-income individuals) were also granted.
At the present time, some forms of social protection and family support have being extended to precarious workers as well, and legislation on civil unions is undergoing a second stage of approval.
In Italy, most formal childcare is provided as a public service governed by national laws, and made available by local municipalities. Generally speaking, childcare in Italy is of high quality because of strict national hygienic and structural guidelines for childcare facilities, and because of the specific training personnel are required to undergo. Compared to other European countries the number of places available for children under age three is quite low in Italy, although the number has been increasing over time as female labour force participation has grown (OECD, 2007; Antonelli & Grembi, 2010).
There are several different types of childcare services available in Italy, which vary by the ages of the children they serve, their means of financing, and their level of flexibility. Institutionalised care for children from ages three months to three years is mainly provided by asili nido (day care centres), which can be public and thus managed by municipalities, or private and operated through agreements with the local administration (i.e., municipalities reserve a certain number of places in private asili, and pay part of the fees and/or create rules for access). Access to asili nido is limited and defined by localities. Priority is given to disadvantaged families based on factors such as disability (of the child or of the parents), a new pregnancy of the mother, the job arrangements of both parents (e.g., the distance between home and work, or work hours), the presence of close and capable grandparents, and the number of additional children.
Families are required to pay a monthly fee for childcare services, which varies according to household income and the timetable selected. Some municipalities provide free (or very inexpensive) access to public infant day care centres for families with incomes below a certain threshold.
In addition to asili nido, law 285/1997 made it possible for families or groups of families to organise “baby-parking” facilities that provide occasional childcare, attendance at which requires the payment of a fee on an hourly or daily basis.
Starting at age three, children have access to kindergarten, which is almost universally available in Italy (OECD, 2007).
Parental leave (including maternity protection)
Italian law has recognised the importance of maternity protection since the beginning of the country’s republican democracy in 1946. Under article 37 of the Italian constitution, both mother and child are guaranteed appropriate protections and working conditions. From that point onwards, several laws have been passed that enhanced work-family balance for women and extended paid and unpaid leave to include a number of work categories, and to cover adoptive and foster mothers. The current norm provides mandatory periods of absence from work for women registered in the social security system. Biological and adoptive mothers who belong to the following work categories are eligible for paid maternity leave: workers employed in the private or public sectors, the self-employed, workers registered with the separate contribution system (i.e., professionals and employer-coordinated freelance workers), and workers in the agricultural and fishery industries.
Italian law guarantees a leave period beginning two months before the expected date of delivery and ending three months after the actual delivery date, during which women are paid 80% of their daily salary, a benefit that is financed through workers’ sick leave contributions. The law also provides financial assistance at childbirth to low-income mothers who are not entitled to benefits from maternity contributions. Women employed in the private and public sectors are guaranteed job security during pregnancy and until the child is one year old. Maternity leave for women in the remaining work categories is regulated by specific contracts. The law also grants a five-month paid leave to mothers who adopt or foster a minor child, starting from the child’s actual entry into the household. Single fathers are entitled to take a period of paid leave lasting up to five months.
Furthermore, national law regulates periods of optional abstention from work for biological or adoptive parents within the first eight years of a child’s life. Mothers and fathers employed in the private or public sectors, self-employed mothers, and mothers and fathers registered with the separate contribution system are entitled to take parental leave. The state guarantees a leave period of six months for each parent, with a maximum of 10 months per child. If the father is absent from work continuously for at least three months, the total leave is extended to 11 months. Parental leave in Italy provides qualified workers with 30% of their monthly salary in the first three years of the child’s life. The contribution is paid either directly by the employer to workers with employment contracts, or by the social security institute to independent workers and those registered with the separate contribution system. Current legislation allows parents to take leave jointly or separately, and at any time before the child is eight years old. Unfortunately, the share of men in Italy who take parental leave remains relatively low (8.6% in 2010), even though there are signs that fathers are increasingly involved in childcare (INPS, 2014).
In Italy there are several types of allowances designed to benefit large or disadvantaged (in terms of income or disability) families, which are provided in the form of tax deductions and cash payments.
Tax deductions apply to individuals who pay income taxes and have dependent family members (i.e., a spouse, a child, or another cohabiting family member with no income, or with an annual income of less than 2,840.51 euros) and last for as long as the family member is dependent.
The size of these tax deductions depends on the number of dependent family members; on whether the family members are disabled; and, in the case of children, on their ages. Thus, the amount increases with the number of dependent family members, and especially of members who are disabled or are under age three. Moreover, the amount is inversely proportional to household income and becomes null over a certain income threshold, depending upon the number of children (SSEF, 2008).
Cash benefits (assegni al nucleo familiare) are paid to low-income families. In order to be eligible for this benefit, the household annual income must be lower than an amount fixed annually by law, and 70% of it must come from non-self-employed work. People employed in (or retired from) the agricultural sector are also entitled to economic assistance. Moreover, minor children for whom benefits are claimed must be resident in Italy. Benefits are paid until the child (assuming he or she is not disabled) is 18 years old.
The amount of cash benefits is based on family income and the number of family members. It is higher for single-parent families with at least three dependent members, and for families with disabled (i.e., incapable of work) members.
In addition, mothers entitled to parental leave (dependent working mothers and workers registered with the separate contribution system) are provided with a “baby-sitting voucher” of 300 euros per month at the end of their maternity leave which they can use over the following 11 months as an alternative to taking elective leave. The voucher can be spent on either babysitting services or public or private infant care services.
Articles 143, 144, and 145 of the Civil Code contain the main regulations on marriage in Italy. Couples must be at least 18 years old and of different sexes to be eligible to marry. However, with the approval of an appointed court, couples may marry for certain serious reasons if the bride and groom are at least 16 years old. Italian law also prohibits marriage between direct relatives up to the third degree, and between relatives by marriage in a straight line and in a collateral line up to the second degree.
Italian law recognises only heterosexual marriages. In recent decades, a number of bills on same-sex unions have been introduced in parliament, but ultimately rejected.
Divorce was first introduced in Italy in 1970, despite the opposition of Catholic organisations and the Vatican, which later also promoted an abrogative referendum that was defeated in 1974. This law grants the right to unilateral divorce in four specific circumstances only: 1) if one spouse has serious mental health problems, 2) if one spouse is serving a life sentence in prison (or longer than 15 years), 3) if a foreign-citizen spouse obtained a marriage dissolution from his/her country of origin or enters into a new marriage in the other country, and 4) if one spouse cannot procreate. Italian law is unusual in that under all other circumstances, couples must be legally separated for a period of three years following the first hearing on the separation procedure before being granted a divorce.
Cohabitation and civil unions
At the moment no specific norm governs cohabitation in Italy, although since the 1990s many draft laws have been proposed. Currently (October 2014), legislation on civil unions is undergoing a second stage of approval.
Under current law, unmarried cohabiting couples are disadvantaged relative to married couples, especially if the relationship ends. Specifically, unmarried couples do not have the same access to health and social welfare benefits as married couples, and unmarried partners are not entitled to inherit after the other partner’s death. However, they may enter into contracts regulating patrimonial matters and private autonomy, and the rights of their children are fully guaranteed.
- Antonelli M. A., Grembi V. (2010). The More Public The More Private? The Case Of The Italian Childcare. Working Papers 0310, CREI Università degli Studi Roma Tre, revised 2010.
- Brienza, G. (2001). Famiglia e politiche familiari in Italia (vol.171). Carrocci.
- INPS (2014) “Rapporto annuale 2013” http://www.inps.it/portale/default.aspx
- Naldini, M., & Saraceno, C. (2008). Social and family policies in Italy: Not totally frozen but far from structural reforms. Social Policy & Administration,42(7), 733-748.
- OECD (2007), Babies and Bosses Reconciling Work and Family Life: A synthesis of Önding for OECD Countries. OECD
- SSEF (2008). Libro Bianco. L'imposta sul reddito delle persone fisiche e il sostegno alle famiglie. http://www.ssef.it/sites/ssef/files/Documenti/Rivista%20Tributi/Supplemento%201-%20Libro%20Bianco/Capitoli%201%20-%20I.pdf
- Thévenon, O. (2011). Family policies in OECD countries: A comparative analysis. Population and Development Review, 37(1), 57-87