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The Effect of Mussolini's

Pronatalist View on Women

By  Cynthia Dinsmore

9 October 1999

Professor Stephens                 History 219  

A Chronology of
Events in Italy

60,000 BC - 1300 AD

1300 AD - 1998 AD




Baths of Baiae;
Observations and Inferences
The Casamari Abbey
The First 400 Years
Agriculture in the
Roman Empire
Pope Julius II

Eleonora Pimentel
The Parthenopean Republic

The Effect of Mussolini's 
Pronatalist View on Women


Women's roles began to change in Italian society at the time of the industrial revolution.  It was during these times women began to work outside of the home.  They were needed to work in factories especially for the textile industry.  This trend continued through the First World War.  While men were off fighting, women were valuable resources to keep the country going.  Women at this time not only worked in factories but also took their husband's place on the farm.  If they were going to survive the war, someone needed to be out in the fields plowing and harvesting.  Even with all the new responsibility women gained, they still had very few rights.  They could not vote, therefore, they had no say in how the country was being run.  When Mussolini arrived on the political scene women became a valuable asset for the growth of Italy.  Mussolini had incorporated a pronatalist view into the fascist regime.  He felt that the country needed to increase its population.  Why was this idea so important to a country that was already overflowing with people?  What were the steps he took to try and increase procreation among the Italian people?  What was the ultimate effect of these steps?

Although the nation of Italy was already overcrowded with its 40 million inhabitants, Mussolini wanted to add another 20 million people to the current population.  There were two reasons that are speculated for his wanting to increase the population.  The first was to create a large number of people for 'cheap labor' and the other was the idea of imperialist expansion.'[i]  Mussolini wanted power and he knew the only way to gain power was to increase his population base.  This is evident in the speech he gave on May 26, 1927.  See Appendix A for the speech that was printed in Il Popolo d'Italia.  The means in which Mussolini wanted to accomplish his goals are barely touched upon in his speech.  The bachelor's tax mentioned in the speech was very high and "by 1936, bachelors were paying double their normal income tax plus an additional 155 lire p.a."[ii]

The other measures Mussolini took to encourage procreation were taking the prostitutes off the street and putting them into state run brothels. [iii]  His intent here seemed to be that of out of sight out of mind.  If men did not have ready access to prostitutes, they would either find a wife if not already married or go home and engage in sexual activity with their wives.  He was trying to cut down on illegitimate sex acts while at the same time encourage procreation.

One repressive measure Mussolini took to insure procreation one was the criminalization of abortion.  However, measures that appeared positive also came out of his pronatalist view.  One of these was a grant of family allowances.  These grants were given to heads of households based on how many dependents they had.  The measures were passed in three phases.  The first was done because of an accord signed between the Fascist Confederation of Industry and the National Fascist Corporation of Industrial workers.  This cut the workweek to "forty hours with no increase in hourly pay." [iv]  Compensation was set up for those employees who had families to support and usually worked more hours. 

The second phase was passed on August 21, 1936.  Family allowances were given to all industrial workers regardless of how many hours they worked and the state had to share the costs for these allowances.  Up until this, time employers and employees whose hours were not reduced were paying for the allowances.  The July 27, 1937 decree began the third phase of the family allowance measures.  This allowed grants to dependents of all employees not only in industry and commerce but also for those in agriculture as well.  These really were not incentives for family growth but ways for "cutting wages to substandard levels."[v]

The above measures on the surface may have appeared to be positive but underneath they were still a way to control the family and to cut wages without people catching on to what was happening.  Some other positive measures came out of this pronatalist view.  These included maternity insurance, birth and marriage loans, career preferment for fathers of large families, special institutions were established for infant and family health, and welfare.[vi]

Mussolini's policies and programs however, did not increase the birth rate.  They did however, have results that changed the view of women and showed the importance of women and children to the country.  The first was that they became "the bases for the first modern public services related to the welfare of mothers and children in Italy." [vii]  The next was the promotion of "novel politics around maternity, which reorganized women as new political subjects, yet granted few real privileges and burdened them with many added duties." [viii]  The last was that the "policies fostered new social perceptions of maternity."[ix]

It is mentioned above that the programs established and the laws passed did not really help in increasing the birth rates throughout Italy.  Mussolini had concerns about the fertility rate because in the 1880's the fertility was about the same throughout the country.  However, "by the mid-1930s at least twenty-five urbanized provinces of north and central Italy had succumbed to what Livi called 'demographic death'." [x]  This meant that the adults in these areas were not producing enough children to replace themselves.  The other side to this was that women in the South and in rural areas were producing many more children than those in the north and urbanized areas (See Appendix B).  Ironically, the women who were producing the most children were the ones who could afford it the least.  These women were usually from the peasant class and were impoverished. It is said that "interwar Italy was thus characterized by two fertility regimes: one seemingly traditional and the other stigmatized as modern."[xi]

Mussolini realized that this modern idea of motherhood was prevalent in the urban areas.  He was worried that these new reproductive ideas would become national ideas and he would not have the population increase that he wanted.  This is probably why he wanted to keep families and especially women in their rural communities.  He felt that these women were more fertile.[xii]  It was not really that the women were more fertile but that they had little knowledge about preventing pregnancy.  Mussolini saw once women moved from their rural communities into the city that they were more likely to start controlling when and how many children they would have.

Mussolini's ideas to stimulate birth by obstructing contraceptive measures and banning abortion did not originate with the rise of fascism they had also been barred by the liberal and authoritarian regimes.  Mussolini's policies were different in several ways.  The first of these policies was "the suppression of information on contraception was supported by Laws on Public Safety." [xiii]  The prevention of increasing the population of the Italian people was a major crime and was prosecuted by the central government. The second of the policies had to do with the timing of this intervention.  It had only been since the last two generations that the knowledge of birth control had been revived from the times of the Counter-reformation.  This knowledge did not come to everyone in the rural areas "secular ignorance still prevailed." [xiv]  One of the things blamed for this knowledge was the migration of people from other countries where the societies were considered sexually emancipated such as the United States and France.  The last policy was that the "official sanctions were reinforced by canon law." [xv]  The church had made major contributions to these policies because they fed right into its beliefs.[xvi]

The pronatalist policies invoked by the fascist regime had the greatest impact on women.  The attitude towards women was considered male chauvinistic. Women were expected to be good wives and mothers, caretakers of the homes, and to obey their husbands without question.  The government did not want women to have jobs and even went as far as preventing them from getting or keeping jobs. Women who began working after May 1915 were fired from their jobs at the State railway system is one example of the government control.  The only ones exempt from this were war widows.  Women were only allowed to work in jobs that were considered strictly for women such as telephone operators and secretaries.  They "was more work available in shops and domestic service…But essentially a woman's place was in the home, preferably pregnant."[xvii]  This mentality and the lack of jobs is probably why more girls decided to continue on in school and to go on after that to the university. [xviii]

      All the policies produced by the fascist regime probably helped the emancipation of women rather than impeding it.  "It mobilized women into public organizations - 500,000 'Rural Housewives' by 1939, another 500,000 'Fascist Women' in the Party.  It helped with summer holidays and advice on child-rearing, it encouraged female sport in general and women athletes like Ondina Valle in particular, and it kept girls out of dead end jobs." [xix]  Women were even given the right to vote in local elections in 1925 this was short-lived because there were no more local elections allowed under Mussolini's fascist regime.  Educational opportunities for women were greatly expanded.  Evidence for this was that in "1935-36 17.4 per cent of the university students were female, compared with the less than 4 per cent before 1914." [xx] There were limitations to women furthering their education.  They could not apply for the teaching positions traditionally held by men such as Latin, history, philosophy, and Italian.  Instead, they were able to teach physics, chemistry, and mathematics.   This was where male chauvinism was clearly visible.[xxi]

In conclusion, it seems that Mussolini's idea of trying to increase the Italian population did not work.  It may have alienated the female population by viewing women as "baby factories."  Not all women were offended by this view of women because the traditional woman knew this was what was expected and did her duty for her husband and country.  However, the educated and working women in the cities knew there was something besides making babies.  They were probably more realistic in their views of whether or not they could really afford to have many children.  Things were changing because instead of n increase in the birth rates there was actually a decrease in the number of children being born each year.  There were some advantages to Mussolini's pronatalist view.  It set up social services for women and children and changed the view of women, which in turn helped lead to their eventual emancipation.  This is not what Mussolini had envisioned but for women this was just a stepping stone to something better.

Read the Complete Bibliography

Read Mussolini's "Speech of the Ascension," May 26, 1927 - Appendix A


[i] V. De Grazia, How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy 1922-1945, Los Angeles, 1992,p. 42.

[ii] M. Clark, Modern Italy 1871-1995, London, 1996, p.275.

[iii] V. De Grazia, p.44.

[iv] V. De Grazia, p.86

[v] V. De Grazia, p.86

[vi] V. De Grazia, p. 45.

[vii] V. De Grazia, p. 45

[viii] V. De Grazia, p. 45

[ix] V. De Grazia, p. 45

[x] V. De Grazia, p. 46.

[xi] V. De Grazia, p. 46.

[xii] M. Clark, p.276

[xiii] V. De Grazia, p.55-6.

[xiv] V. De Grazia, p.55-6.

[xv] V. De Grazia, p.55-6.

[xvi] V. De Grazia, p.55-6.

[xvii] M. Clark, p.276

[xviii] V. De Grazia, p. 46.

[xix] V. De Grazia, p. 46.

[xx] V. De Grazia, p. 46.

[xxi] V. De Grazia, p. 46.  

 Read the Bibliography


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