Alessia Levi

The generational conflict fought on a bus seat

I hate public transportation, especially here. The Israeli buses are old and noisy and there is always someone ready to start some squabble. I have never though that I could actually learn any lesson during one of my travels  – much less a demography and sociology lesson! It was until I flew back to my beloved Rome – where I was born and raised – that I realized that.

I was lucky enough to have my own car to drive around in Rome since I was 16, but my parents decided to sell it as soon as they realized my alyiah was not just an act of rebellion but the start of a new life. So when I go back to Rome to visit them, me and my husband are left on foot and have no choice but to use buses, alas! Buses in Rome are new and eco-friendly (there are even electric buses) and as for the passengers, everyone mind their own business. Add the pleasure of the view on one of the most beautiful cities in the world and you can almost enjoy it. But how is it like travelling on a Roman bus?

It is possible to find a seat, but it is just a waste of time. You can tell at a glance that you will have to leave your seat to an elder person by the next stop. Forget about the soldiers, the students and the mums with their children and strollers that we are used to see here without even paying any attention! While travelling on a Roman bus, you soon realize that you are surrounded by 70 years-old people that get up in order to let their seat to 90 years-old people! So what right you – 20-30-40-50 years old passenger – have to seat? As soon as we realized that, we were shocked!

And then I started paying attention to a series of other phenomena. For example, here in Israel I see about 5 pregnant women a day. In Italy, you will see maybe one in a week. If you are lucky.It is well-known that Italy is the second oldest country in the world, after Japan. The median age is 44.3, while in Israel is 29.3!

The ageing of the Italian population is creating serious problems. Just recently the government had to raise the retirement age at 68 years (although this will be applied only from 2050), but no effective policy has been design to support the youth.

I understand that the Italian couples do not want to have more than one child. It hurts to say, but there is no future for the Italian youth, which unemployment rate set now around 1/3 and getting worse. Graduates are forced to accept unpaid internships or 3-months contracts that most probably will not be renewed. Forget about turnover, especially in politics. The Italian establishment is nothing less than a “caste”. We have seen the same faces for 20 years and they are not about to leave soon (75 years-old former PM Berlusconi has just launched a new political party).

The huge expenditure for the older ranges of the population creates  disadvantages – due to distributive problems – to the elders themselves (the pensions are very low – unless you are a politician, of course) and no money is left for aiding the younger ranges, which are not productive. A younger population would instead guarantee a more dynamic and vigorous economic system, able to support even a great presence of 70+ people. A generational conflict will be unavoidable unless the fertility rate will start to grow again. The only hope for Italy seems to be represented by the immigrants, which tend to have more children (2,61 per woman)  than the Italians (1,31 children per woman). Yet, this is not enough, social policies must be issued soon in order to give incentives to prolific couples.

So the next time you get a seat on the bus or see a pregnant woman, do not take it for granted. Israel has been blessed with children, and must continue like this in order to get social stability. But here too, if the government will not take the necessary steps for social justice this trend will probably stop. Want to end up like Italy?


About the Author
Alessia Levi is a graduate student at the MA program in Government at IDC Herzlyiah and an intern at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs where she is researching anti-Semitism and anti-israelism in the Italian media and society.