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The Cagli Media Project
Institute for Education
in International Media
Andrew Ciofalo, Director

Six-kid family a throwback in low-birthrate Italy
Article by Devon Dolan

In a Roman Catholic country where a big family was not so long ago the norm, the recent trend in families is fast becoming a household of three. The decline of large families – a response to more women working, scarce childcare, and lack of government support – is debated throughout the country. But what’s it like to live in an old-fashioned, large Italian family today?

Though they only planned to have four children, Fabio Magnanelli, 46, and Marina Panico, 40, are the proud parents of six kids – four boys and two girls. Growing up in a very closely knit family, the children, who range in age from six to 17, are not spoiled; they are taught from an early age to help and respect one another. Each shares a room with a sibling, and all are expected to take on responsibilities in the home.

This family is an anomaly in Italy, which has the lowest birthrate in Europe – an average of 1.2 children per woman.

Friends and acquaintances are amazed at how Magnanelli and Panico deal with the demands of a large family. Panico says many think she and her husband are “crazy,” or peg them – in what Marina views as a form of narrow-mindedness – as religious fundamentalists.

But she defends her decision. “I am just a normal woman who happened to have six children.” She is thankful and feels blessed by her large family.

Magnanelli says one of the reasons for the decline in births is that families do not need a lot of children to work the farm or run the family business as they did in the past.

“What once was common is now looked upon as almost heroic,” he says.

Panico says women have more control over their own lives today and many feel having more than one child is too demanding. These days, most Italian women work full-time outside the home.

Magnanelli notes that before World War II, a man was obliged to pay a special tax for not being married. It is more common for a man to live as a bachelor now, often with his parents well into his 30s. Also, industrialization has prompted people to move away from their families to find jobs in the cities, leaving them with less help with raising children.

Though their family structure is different from most, Panico says their days and problems are like those of other families. She still has to cook and clean, juggle appointments and chauffeur the younger ones among their various activities. Now that even the youngest is in school, she works in the linen and uniform department at a hospital for 35 hours a week to help with their income.

Panico feels the hardest challenge of raising six children is helping them grow emotionally, especially through adolescence, in a country of changing values. The children are realizing the importance of style and want brand-name clothing, but with so many Panico finds it difficult to give them everything they desire. The family has to make sacrifices, such as not taking long trips or buying expensive clothing.

Still, both Magnanelli and Panico believe they have given their children everything they need. Their success is proven by how happy and content the children are. Panico says her children see the world differently from children in small families.

Magnanelli says the state, in its words, emphasizes the importance of family, but that in fact it does little to ease the day-to-day burdens of getting by with several kids.

Magnanelli, who works as a manager in a factory making pots and pans, recalls that when he and Marina were looking to buy a home not long after getting married, a realtor showed them an apartment with two bedrooms. Magnanelli and Panico told the man they needed a larger house because they were planning on having at least four children. The realtor said homes these days are not made for families with more than one or two children, and suggested they adapt to the new way of family life in Italy.

Though the Magnanelli home can be chaotic at times and sacrifices have to be made, most of the children seem to enjoy being part of a large family.

Even so, when asked whether they would like to have a lot of kids when they form households of their own, four of the five said no. Only the second oldest, Giovanni, held out the prospect of having three children, saying he’d like “una via di mezzo,” or between a big and a small family.

Raising six Children


Video by Catherine Leung
Photography by Vanessa Reeves
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