Explaining Low Fertility in Italy (ELFI) (ICPSR 31881)

Principal Investigator(s): Kertzer, David, Brown University


The ethnographic fieldwork portion of the project - interviews with women of reproductive age, and when available their partners and mothers - was initiated and completed in 2006. For each of four Italian cities (Padua, Bologna, Cagliari, and Naples) studied ethnographically by trained anthropologists, both a working-class and a middle-class neighborhood were identified. These interviews (349 in number) have been transcribed without identifiers. All interviews have been coded and assigned 'attributes' (or nominative variables, such as gender, civil/religious status of marriage, etc.) using the qualitative data analysis software (NVIVO), and these reside in secure electronic project folders. This large body of qualitative interview data is now complete and ready for use across the international collaborative units. Preliminary research reveals the particular significance of family ties in Italy, the fundamental role played by gender systems, and the specific cultural, socio-economic, and politic contexts in which fertility behavior and parenting are embedded. Please see the study website for more information.

Access Notes

  • One or more files in this data collection have special restrictions ; consult the restrictions note to learn more. You can apply online for access to the restricted-use data. A login is required to apply.

    This data collection may not be used for any purpose other than statistical reporting and analysis. Use of these data to learn the identity of any person or establishment is prohibited. To protect respondent privacy, all data files in this collection are restricted from general dissemination. To obtain these restricted files, researchers must agree to the terms and conditions of a Restricted Data Use Agreement.

    Any public-use data files in this collection are available for access by the general public. Access does not require affiliation with an ICPSR member institution.


No downloadable data files available.

Study Description


Kertzer, David. Explaining Low Fertility in Italy (ELFI). ICPSR31881-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2012-01-12. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR31881.v1

Persistent URL: https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR31881.v1

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This study was funded by:

  • United States Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD048715)
  • National Science Foundation (BCS 0418443)

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:    abortion, birth, birth control, birth expectations, birth rates, careers, child rearing, childlessness, children, demographic characteristics, demographic fluctuations, demographic statistics, demography, economics, families, family planning, infants, labor (birth), marriage rates, mothers, parents, population, population characteristics, population decrease, population dynamics, population growth rate, population planning, population policy, population projections, population size, population trends, prenatal care, reproductive history, sexual reproduction, spouses, toddlers, unwanted pregnancies, vital statistics

Smallest Geographic Unit:    city

Geographic Coverage:    Bologna, Cagliari, Europe, Global, Italy, Naples, Padua

Time Period:   

  • 2006

Date of Collection:   

  • 2006

Unit of Observation:    individual

Universe:    Women of reproductive age in four Italian cities (Padua, Bologna, Cagliari, and Naples).

Data Type(s):    survey data

Data Collection Notes:

According to the principal investigator, direct identifiers have been removed. But the transcripts are in Italian, so we were not able to determine the potential for indirect identifiers. As such, the data is restricted.


Study Purpose:    The surprisingly deep drop in Italian birth rates to among the lowest in the world (total fertility rate of 1.3 or below) has dramatically challenged existing social science theory by appearing to contradict population experts' predictions of where such very low "below replacement" fertility would emerge. This interdisciplinary research project, known as "ELFI" (Explaining Low Fertility in Italy), has made considerable inroads into understanding the puzzle of "lowest-low" Italian fertility, reevaluating theories of reproduction and human behavior more generally. Through the use of innovative methodologies, an international team of collaborators from anthropology, sociology, and demography has produced key findings using both statistical, quantitative methods and extensive ethnographic, qualitative methods.

Study Design:    Four Italian cities were studied ethnographically by trained anthropologists. In each, both a working-class and a middle-class neighborhood were identified, and participants were selected.

Sample:    Anthropologists selected 50 women aged 23-45 in each of four Italian cities. Half of these women were of younger reproductive ages (23-32) and half from older ages (33-45). In addition, in each cohort, half of the women were from a working-class neighborhood and half from a middle-class neighborhood, of varying levels of education and parity. Interviews were also conducted (when possible) with the woman's mother and with the woman's husband or cohabiting partner. The interviewees were selected through personal contacts identified through an indirect snowballing procedure with multiple entries (independently selected initial contacts) in order to avoid a clustered sample. The final sample of interviews consists of 233 women (aged 23-45), 49 mothers, and 67 partners, for a total of 349 interviews. The indirect snowball sampling procedure allowed us to stratify the sample by age, parity, and marital status of the woman in order to maximize variation in socio-demographic characteristics. To facilitate analysis, each of the 349 interviews was recorded, transcribed, and examined using the computer program Nvivo8.

Mode of Data Collection:    face-to-face interview


Original ICPSR Release:   2012-01-12

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