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An Imperfect Contraceptive Society: Fertility and Contraception in Italy

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Italy represents an unexpected and in some ways paradoxical outcome in terms of fertility control: a drop to one of the lowest birth rates in the world has been accompanied by continuing extensive use of traditional methods despite the availability of modern contraception. Using data from 349 interviews conducted in 2005–06 in four Italian cities, we argue that Italian women commonly achieve “unplanned” and desired conceptions through the use of withdrawal and natural methods. While data from other countries reveal similar notions of ambivalence surrounding pregnancy intentions and contraceptive use, Italy stands out for the surprising correlation between highly “managing” the conditions under which children are born and the socially commended approach of “letting births happen.” Such results suggest the need to rethink theoretical understandings of low fertility. Through the use of non-technological methods, individuals manipulate culturally produced norms and beliefs about the appropriate time to have a child; simultaneously, their actions are embedded in larger cultural, economic, and political processes.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Lecturer in anthropology, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy, and an affiliate of the Population Studies and Training Center, Brown University. 2: Doctoral candidate in anthropology, Brown University, and an affiliate of the Population Studies and Training Center. 3: Provost of Brown University, where he is Professor of Anthropology and Italian Studies and an affiliate of the Population Studies and Training Center.

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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