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by Jürgen Schweikart

Italy is one of the world's leading western industrial nations today and is competing with France for fourth place. Practically no other European country has experienced such a rapid transformation from a destroyed, strongly agrarian society into a modern industrial state.

The "Repubblica Italiana" is one of the founding members of the European Union. No other member state has such extreme spatial disparities as does this mediterranean country. It is not just 1200 km that lie between the north and the south; the per-capita gross domestic product is more than twice as high in the north and the birth rate is approximately 50% higher than in the south. A harmonisation of these disparities is not in sight.

Regional Disparities

The spatial disparities in Italy are so enormous that even all European regions taken together do not exceed these dimensions. If one looks at the spatial disparities in Europe in terms of unemployment rates by the late 1980s, 6 Italian regions rank among the 20 regions with the highest rates; at the same time, Lombardy belongs to those 20% that have the lowest unemployment rates (Pohl 1995).

Doubtlessly, Italy's marked north-south divide is the result of a long historical process. The question is, however, how far back its roots reach. When Italy was part of the Roman Empire, it had a uniform social system (Vivanti 1980). The invasion of the Langobards brought about a division of the country into a "barbarian" part and a Byzantine part. Consequently, the north developed into a society open for modernisation and innovation, while the history of the South was characterised by exploitation and fe udalism (King 1992). This division was never overcome and is not only visible in statistical indicators, but also in the relationship between north and south Italians. The emergence and the success of the Lega Lombarda is an expression of this relationship.

Another question in this context is to what extent regional disparities have changed since the completion of the Italian national state in 1870. On the part of the state, many attempts have been made to reduce these disparities. Transfer payments and support of the regional economies were meant to strengthen especially the south's economy. It is obvious that despite comprehensive measures no harmonisation worth mentioning has taken place. The share of the Mezzogiorno in the gross national product, for inst ance, has not changed and accounts for about 25% (Dunford 1988).

If one looks at the harmonised unemployment rates published by EUROSTAT on the basis of the 95 Italian provinces during the past ten years as an example, it becomes evident that the imbalances have even increased. The variation coefficient of the unemployment rate of all Italian provinces has increased substantially since 1983.

Whereas in Italy as a whole the unemployment rate rose from 8.5% to 11.1% during 1983-1993, this increase of almost 3% presents itself differently when looked at in terms of regions. The provinces in the south bear the main burden. While the increase in the unemployment rate in the north was only insignificant, unemployment rates in the south rose dramatically. Sicily is particularly affected with an unemployment rate that nearly doubled from 11.7% to 23.1%. On the other hand, the unemployment rate in the provinces of the north-east fell from 7% to 4.8%.

In addition, the harmonised unemployment rate of 1993 illustrated in the map shows that a simple north-south-divide is not sufficient to describe regional structures. The provinces in the north-east play a special role: with few exceptions, they have particularly low unemployment rates. The rise of this region finds expression in the term of the so-called "Third Italy" (Bagnasco 1977, Bianchini 1991, Loda 1989); however, distinct boundaries cannot be drawn. These particularly dynamic and economically stron g provinces are characterised by enterprises with an extremely flexible production and market adjustment and are, in contrast to the old industrialised north-west, free of rather cumbersome industries that heavily depend on economic trends.

Map: Unemployment in the Provinces of Italy, 1993 (Source: EUROSTAT)

Territorial Structure

Italy is made up of 20 regions which themselves consist of 95 provinces. The regions were created in 1970 by law and have had administrations of their own since 1976. Via general elections a regional council is elected which then elects a regional government ("Giunta regionale").

Statistical Sources

The largest part of data relevant for social sciences are published by the Istituto Statistico Nazionale (ISTAT). Its programme of publications is very comprehensive and well structured. Particularly in publications referring to population censuses, detailed regional data are published. The "Bolletino Mensile di Statistica" is a monthly source for the most significant statistical benchmark figures, as is the series "Indicatori Mensili", which contains a large number of time series. In the Statistical Yearb ook as well as in 23 additional series complete annual data are published in printed form.

The latest population census was carried out in 1991 and has meanwhile been published completely. Regional data are available in 20 regional or 95 provincial publications and can be obtained in machine-readable form on diskette.

Table: Statistical comparisons

National Statistical Institute: Istituto Statistico Nazionale (ISTAT), Via Cesare Balbo, 16, 00184 Roma, Phone +39-6-46733102 (3-4-5), Fax +39- 6-46735198
Publications are also available from: Casalini libri s.p.a., Via Benedetto da Maiano,3, 50014 Fiesole (Firenze), Phone +39-55-599941, Fax +39-55-598895

Government Publications Sales Office: The offices are decentralised. Each Region has an office. See for a list in each recent publication of ISTAT.

Social Science Research Institutions: Istituto Universitario Europeo, Via dei Roccettini, 5-9, 50016 San Domenico di Fiesole (Firenze) ( (+39) 55 477931, Fax +39-55-4685298
Archivio Dati e Programmi per le Scienze Sociali (ADPSS), Via G. Cantoni, 4, 20144 Milano, Phone (+39) 2 4986187, Fax +39-2-463291
Società Italiana di Economia, Demografia e Statistica, Casella Postale 12003, 00100 Roma Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, Via Romagnosi, 3, 20121 Milano Phone +39-2-874175
L'Istituto Carlo Cattaneo, Via Stefano, 11, 40100 Bologna, Phone +39-51-239766

Social Science and Political Journals: Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica (three/year, ISSN 0048-8402), Stato e Mercato (three/year, ISSN 0392-9701), Polis (three/year, ISSN 1120-9488), Rassegna Italiana di Sociologia (quarterly, ISSN 0486-0349), il Mulino (six/year, ISSN 0027-3120)

Further reading and references:

Bagnasco, A. (1977): Tre Italie. La problematica territoriale dello sviluppo italiano. Bologna: Il Mulino.

Bianchini, F. (1991): Tre Italie. Model or Myth? In: Ekistics, 350/351:336-345.

Dunford, M.F. (1988): Capital, the State and Regional Development. London (=Studies in Society and Space, 1).

King, A.D. (1990): Urbanism, Colonialism, and the World-Economy: Cultural and Spatial Foundations of the World- Economy. London, New York.

Loda, M. (1989): Das "Dritte Italien". Zu den Spezifika der peripheren Entwicklung in Italien. In: Geographische Zeitschrift, 77(3):180-194.

Mignone, M.B.(1995): Italy Today. A Country in Transition. New York (= Stud. in Modern European History, 16).

Pohl, J. (1995): Italien dreigeteilt? Wirtschaftliche, politische und soziokulturelle Disparitäten südlich der Alpen. In: Geographische Rundschau, 47(3):150-155.

Putnam, R.D. (1992): Making Democracy Work. Civic Tradition in Modern Italy. Princeton: University Press

Vivanti, C. (1980): Zerrissenheit und Gegensätze. In: ROMANO, R. (Hrsg.): Die Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen. Fünf Studien zur Geschichte Italiens. Frankfurt/Main, 139-225.


Dr. Jürgen Schweikart

EURODATA Newsletter No.2, p.24-25