words by Silvia Donati
Lorena is 35 years old, has a master’s degree and works as a receptionist after failing to find a steady job in her intended industry. She had been trying for ten years. Cecilia is 30 years old, she also has a master’s degree, and is working on a temporary project subsidized by her region where she advises the unemployed on internship and job opportunities. They both live at home with their parents. They are part of that 31% of Italians who live at home, according to a recent study commissioned to the research institute Censis by the national farming association Coldiretti. That Italians tend to leave the nest much later than their European or American counterparts is well-known, something for which they have earned the not-so-flattering epithet of “mammoni”.
But is it really just a question of not wanting to leave the comforts of home and of a loving Italian mom? Job prospects in Italy are not good – and have not been for years. Unemployment is at 10.7% according to Istat (it is at 35% for those between the age of 15 and 24); even graduates have difficulty finding a good position; salaries are among the lowest in Europe; employment, when you can find it, seems to have become a sequence of temporary contracts that do not allow the young to leave home and become independent. These factors better explain why one third of Italians is living at home; according to the study cited above, the percentage goes up to 60% for the age range between 18-29; it is 25% for people 30 to 45 years old and almost 12% for 45 to 64 years old. Besides, almost half of Italians not living at home live nevertheless within walking distance of their parents’ home. Is this good or bad?
The conclusion of the study, which was titled: “Crisis: living together, living better”, was that family living and community living are ways to confront and survive the economic crisis: the family becomes the economic and moral support. But it also means delayed autonomy. “If it wasn’t for my parents, I’d be living under a bridge” says Cecilia, who is currently making a little more than €400 a month for a part-time contract set to expire in November, with no possibility of renewal, at which point she will need to look for a job – again. Cecilia has a degree in Foreign Languages and Literatures and a Master’s degree in Teaching Italian as a Second Language. She hasn’t been able to find a steady teaching job since she graduated. “It’s very frustrating. All those years spent studying, and now nothing. Older teachers don’t retire, maybe because they don’t have accrued enough retirement years, or simply because they don’t want to leave. This way, the younger can’t get in”. This remark points to another old (literally and figuratively) Italian problem: the old generations are unwilling to step aside to give space to the new ones. It is a stagnant job market. “I feel labeled as a 30-year-old loser because I don’t have a steady job and live with my parents.
Cecilia with her family at home watching a soccer game on tv
I do feel like I haven’t been able to achieve something of my own. But it bothers me to be called mammona. I don’t feel that way. I studied hard, I went abroad, I know I could live on my own - I don’t need my mother to do everything for me. But I don’t have the opportunity to set myself free. And yes, I get along with my parents, and it’s nice to have someone to turn to when you’ve had a bad day, but sometimes I just feel I need my space.”
Lorena has a similar story. She graduated with honors in Education and was able to find a job related to her field of study. But while studying at university, she had discovered a new passion: popular traditions and farmers’ civilization. She decided to quit her job to pursue a two-year master’s program in Food History and Culture that she thought eventually would allow her to enter the field she loved. She wrote two books and ten articles on the subject (all unpaid). Having established herself as an expert, she started to propose herself as a freelance researcher to museums. For a few years, it worked. “I deluded myself that I could actually make a living out of my passion.” Then, the 2008 economic crisis struck. Funding for education and culture got cut first. “Museums didn’t even have enough money to pay for heating, let alone for freelancers”. What led her to decide to abandon her passion was having just one job contract for €1000 for the whole of 2010. “At that point, I thought: I’m 33, I invested all this time on this business, I have gained the needed expertise, and I still don’t know where to turn to be able to support myself. And so I decided to put aside my passion to find a regular job”.
Lorena with her parents at graduation
She has been working as a receptionist since January 2011, one temporary contract after another, renewed every few months. “I think the point is, if you have a passion you want to pursue and this passion is in a critical field, such as culture, education, the arts, if you don’t have a family behind who believes in your dreams and is willing to support you, then it’s really difficult” she says. “It all boils down to, what is your priority, having a job or following your dreams?”
Lorena said she would not consider trying to get a job in her field again unless it would guarantee the same conditions her receptionist job offers her – unlikely to happen. She has settled on being a receptionist and she feels ok about it. “I would never go back because it was such a destabilizing experience for me. For ten years I never knew what I’d be doing the next day, and now that I have a paycheck every month, I understand what it means to be able to actually plan my life. I still have my passion and it will stay with me, but only as a hobby.”
Cecilia said she has not lost all hopes of finding a teaching job, although she is quite pessimistic about it and is considering moving abroad. “If you get to 30 and you start thinking, with regret, maybe it’s better if I try somewhere else, how fair is that of your country? They don’t give you the opportunities to stay.”
Mammoni by need then, not by choice.