The real “migration crisis”: the depopulation of Italian villages

There is a phenomenon that brings together north and south Italy: small towns are emptying out. Students prefer urban centres to the outskirts and rural areas; some enrol in university, others move for work, other both at the same time. It is a democratic migration, there is no class distinction and everyone leaving their hometown does so not to come back again. In the small village, therefore, the inhabitants are most often only elderly people. In Italy only 22% of those who remain in rural town is younger than 24, and the percentage rises only to 24% in bigger rural towns. In Italy today “ghost towns” are around a thousand and according to Istat (National Institute for Statistics) the number goes up to 6000 when counting folds and alpine pastures. There are different reasons for this, ranging from economic migration to natural calamities (landslides, earthquakes and floods have made certain locations inaccessible), but a falling birth rate is also responsible for these numbers. Oftentimes these villages lack services, there are no supermarkets, no banks or pharmacies, no schools or public transport connections and the closes hospital is one hour away. Most importantly, though, they lack job opportunities. Young people have no real reason to seclude him- or herself in a village disconnected from the outside society, offering no perspectives for work or studies. It should not surprise, then, if this demographic leaves.


According to a report published by the department of social and economic affairs of the United Nations, 68% of the global population will live in urban areas by 2050. At the moment we are stalling at 55%, which is nonetheless a percentage that has grown exponentially in the last decades. This is, of course, not a recent phenomenon, but simply the evolution of urbanisation that has characterised various historical periods, especially during industrial revolutions. We live in a time where smart working is vastly diffused and in the upcoming years it will take the place of traditional working life. However, this will not be possible in more remote areas, where digital innovation is practically absent. In Italy many areas are still disconnected to the internet, forcing remote working people to move to find a better internet connection. Thanks to community financing, the 2022 Open Fiber project should bring high speed internet to 90% of the country, hopefully minimising such depopulation.


Additionally, Italian politics is not encouraging young talent to stay and is not implementing public transportation or digital connection, in an attempt to minimise the sense of isolation that seems to be an integral part of the life in more or less remote villages. This, alongside other issues faced by young Italians, spurs them to move abroad as there seems to be no prospects for the future in Italy, especially when the State is not actively promoting any initiative to make staying in the country endearing. This, however, is a global issue and cannot be overlooked forever.

Posted on behalf of the author, who is a student at the University of Helsinki