In Italy, as in many parts of the world, social structures and norms have changed dramatically over the last 20 years. What were once totally normal standards and traditional customs are no longer in use as traveling, technology and the Internet have made the world smaller, melding countries and cultures in ways we’ve never seen before. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. The stereotype of the large Italian family no longer holds true and Italy now has one of the lowest birthrates in the world. Indeed most of the new population in Italy comes from immigration and new immigrants. In the U.S., however, large families are still the norm in many places especially in the Midwest and the Southern states.
Traditionally Italians embraced the concept of extended families more than Americans have. Grandparents, uncles and cousins always played a big part in the everyday life of most Italians and while this is also changing, it is probably still more in practice in Italy than in most parts of the United States.
In both countries the divorce rate is at a rather alarming percentage; the social stigma of divorce all but having been abolished. In fact, divorce has pretty much become the norm, or at least nothing out of the ordinary. With the increases in divorce so to have we seen a change in family landscape in both countries, with families that are made up of single parents or various stepparents and step
siblings. It seems fair to draw a correlation between the rush of the classic Italian family structure into a more urban, isolated one and the referendum that allowed divorce in Italy.
Also, the increasing number of working women has made a change on family structure and gender roles. In both Italy and the United States women are often juggling both motherhood and family roles with a career or job. Society in general has become more fast paced, something more new to Italy than the United States, and with that comes less time spent together as a family instead reserving meals together for special days and holidays. Unfortunately many are also finding that weddings and funerals are the most common times that extended families find themselves together.
Other social issues, such as gay marriage, continue to be worked out in both countries. So far Italy has tried to regulate these so-called “non-traditional unions,” while some states in the U.S. are now allowing marriage between spouses of the same gender. In a heavily religious country like the United States and in a country with firm roots in Catholicism like Italy these issues are often quite complicated to navigate and solve satisfactorily for all parties.
The Italian family has always been considered headed by the male figure ( called capofamiglia or head of the family), the husband or the father, and although the power was only on pa- per, it gave a lot of meaning in the overall relation- ships. Today, that concept seems to be obsolete, although still legally present.
One custom that Italians have that is quite different than the traditional way in the United States is women keeping their maiden name. In Italy women keep their maiden name, which is increasingly common in the U.S. these days, but is still against the tradition. Some Italian women are now giving their children their maiden names, although that is still rather uncommon (in both countries the use of hyphenation or both last names is on the rise.)
It seems that the new generations across the Western world will be quite homogeneous as they have a shared culture promoted by entertainment and the internet. It is difficult to predict how a traditional Italian or American family will look in 50 years, but hopefully it will have evolved into a structure that allows society to prosper and the members to be happy, productive members of their communities