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Culture, work and migration

A survey published by the Bank of Italy links the trend of flows of people with the evolution of the country’s social and economic conditions

The migration of large numbers of people has often had an important role in the economy, production and the growth and success of businesses. Understanding the great migratory movements, their motives and dynamics, is not only useful for understanding the goals they achieved, but also for a greater awareness of the all-Italian business culture that plays a part in the successes (and failures) of what is commonly referred to as made in Italy.

As such, it’s important to read “Migration, Demography and Work in a Divided Country” written by Asher Colombo and Gianpiero Dalla Zuanna (from the University of Bologna and Padua respectively), published by the Bank of Italy and presented to the 18th World Economic History Congress, in the Session Demography and Economic Change from Modern Era to Date: An International Comparative Perspective.
The two authors start from the consideration that the proportion of foreigners in the population in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Malta and Greece today is comparable to that of the more traditional immigration countries in Europe. Just forty years ago, the foreign presence was decidedly modest. Colombo and Dalla Zuanna explain that the migration balance with foreign countries has become positive since the 1970s, inverting a century-old trend. After the migration boom at the beginning of the 21st century, a sudden and sharp decline was observed during the following years of crisis.

The research has the objective of describing seventy years of Italian migration on the one hand (from the fifties to the present day), systematically distinguishing the Centre-North from the South and connecting them with the migratory history of the previous years, and, on the other, identifying the persistent structural characteristics that have shaped foreign presence in Italy, building a very different model from that of Central and Northern Europe. What emerges is the story of migratory flows technically shown to have a stop and go pattern, interpreted in the light of pull factors, determined by structural changes in demography and the labour market, but also by the particular culture present in Italian society.

In their conclusions, the two authors write: “The actors have changed, but the script is very similar. From unification until the seventies, it was Italians who left for other regions of Italy or to go abroad, while in the following three decades, the shortage of Italians willing to perform low-cost manual labour has been compensated for by the arrival of foreigners. Things have changed somewhat over the last decade, because young people with high-level educational qualifications are leaving Italy in substantial numbers for the first time. What will happen in the near future is highly dependent on our country’s ability to create new jobs both for those who are highly qualified and those who are not.”

Migrazioni, demografia e lavoro in un paese diviso (Migration, Demography and Work in a Divided Country)

Asher Colombo, Gianpiero Dalla Zuanna

Bank of Italy, Economic History Booklet, no. 45, September 2019

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