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

Published: Jan 12, 2012

Principal Investigator(s):
David Kertzer, Brown University


Version V1

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.

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

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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)


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.

Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research



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.

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.

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.

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.

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


survey data




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This study was originally processed, archived, and disseminated by Data Sharing for Demographic Research (DSDR), a project funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).