Why you should care
Because too much of a good thing — including Mom’s cooking — can be a bad thing.
Italian mothers have a saying: “I figli sono pezzi di cuore.” But instead of “children are pieces of the heart,” maybe it should be “they will never leave.” Because for the majority of mothers and their kids in Italy, it’s as if the umbilical cord never gets cut, and they remain tethered together for the rest of their lives. There’s good reason. According to 2016 Eurostat statistics:
More than two thirds of Italian millennials live with their parents.
It’s a trend that primarily involves males — females leave much sooner, typically by the age of 22. Compare that with the rate in the U.S., where, the Pew Research Center reported in 2014, only 32.1 percent of young adults were still living with Mommy and Daddy. Italy also has the distinction of faring better than only one country in Europe — Slovakia, home to 69.6 percent “sticky” homesick youth.
Why might Italian boys be reluctant to fly the coop? Consider the everyday scene in a typical household: Mama cooks, cleans, shops for groceries and does the laundry while Papa covers the rent and pays the bills. Their son wakes up a little before noon, enjoys a lavish breakfast prepared by his mom and ventures out to spend the day rock climbing. He’s not studying, working or even looking for a job, and he couldn’t care less about his future, because he believes his parents will always be around. They will die, of course, but that’s a reality he chooses not to burden himself with.
Given how ingrained this scenario is in our culture, we Italians have even devised words for these hangers-on:
- fannulloni (literally means “do-nothings”)
- bamboccioni (stupid, fat puppets)
- mammoni (overgrown kids who cling to their mother’s skirts well into adulthood)
Whatever they’re called, apparently it’s A-OK to be 40 and still living under the same roof as your parents. Over here, it’s like we operate in another time dimension, where age is very relative. Being 25 in Italy is like being 10 in the U.S., and 40 is akin to 25. The average age for graduating from college is 30 to 35, in part because many Italian students spend up to 10 years taking courses, sitting for just one exam a year, inching closer to retirement without having set foot in the labor market.
But who wouldn’t love to be on a never-ending holiday at home, coddled by Mom? Well, Danes, Swedes and their fellow Northern Europeans would likely decline, given that their progressive parents kick them out of the house when they’re barely teenagers, and the number of those refusing to leave is less than 4 percent. “It’s evolution: Even mother birds throw their hatchlings out of the nest. Those who learn to fly survive, the rest die,” says high school sociology teacher Rosa Maria Bianchini. “If nature does it, aren’t humans also animals?”
I see this every day in class. Boy pupils are allowed to flunk because it’s macho, while girls get grounded.
Rosa Maria Bianchini, high school sociology teacher
A persuasive argument, unless you’ve known any Italian mamme. They’re a unique breed. “This phenomenon is largely due to a cultural mindset that survives in archaic, matriarchal Italy, where the male son was pampered and spoiled, while the female daughter was used as an asset to better her family’s economic position through marriage,” Bianchini explains. Boys were looked upon as future leaders whose mission was to preserve their family’s status by passing down the surname and lineage to the next generation. “I see this every day in class,” says Bianchini. “Boy pupils are allowed to flunk because it’s macho, while girls get grounded.”
But it’s more than a matter of cultural heritage. Italy’s triple-dip recession boosted youth unemployment to 36.5 percent — one of the highest rates in Europe. “The first victims of the protracted crisis are youth,” says Gianni Toniolo. The professor of economics at LUISS in Rome notes that many have lost their jobs or have only temporary three-month contracts that give them no stability in building an independent life. “The worst part is they see no hope in the future,” Toniolo says.
Which helps explain why so many Italian youth sit around at home, waiting for work to drop in their laps while Mom and Dad keep the household running. “La famiglia è sacra,” as they say: Family is sacred. As long as you don’t mind washing your 40-year-old son’s socks.