The Italian government has a baby problem: Birth rates are falling rapidly, with only 488,000 babies born in Italy last year, half the average born each year in the 1960s, and the smallest number of births since Italy itself was born in 1861.
But a campaign intended to encourage Italians to procreate backfired on government officials, who are now apologizing for a series of advertisements that ended up offending the very population they were supposed to reach. In one poster for the campaign, which will include a national fertility day on Sept. 22, a woman holds up an hourglass and a caption reads “Beauty is timeless. Fertility isn’t.” Another shows a rotting banana with the caption “Male fertility is much more vulnerable than you might think.”
It wasn’t just the visuals that came across as tasteless. Italian women noted on social media that the government can hardly urge women to get pregnant while youth unemployment is at 42 percent and women are not offered paid maternity leave. In some cases, women are still required to sign paperwork that allows their employer to fire them if they become pregnant.
“We did not intend to offend or provoke anyone,” said health minister Beatrice Lorenzin, who in May called the Italian fertility crisis “apocalyptic.” “If the message has not gone across as we would have liked, we will change it.”
But even the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, lashed out at the campaign organizers, saying the advertisements were inappropriate considering the societal limitations that offer a negative environment for couples to consider pregnancy.
”If you want to create a society that invests in its future and has children, you have to make sure the underlying conditions are there,” he said.
One place Italy could look for an improved campaign is Sweden, where low birth rates in the 1980s prompted fears that the population would shrink dramatically. Sweden’s family policy helped fix that, by offering generous welfare and paid parental leave to both men and women. Today, Sweden’s birth rate exceeds the average for the EU.
Photo credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images