Economy of Italy

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Economy of Italy
Milan, the financial centre of Italy
CurrencyEuro (EUR, €) (Except in Campione d'ItaliaCHF)
1 January – 31 December
Trade organisations
European Union, WTO, OECD, AIIB
Country group
PopulationDecrease 59,641,488 (1 January 2020, provisional)[3]
  • Increase $2.112 trillion (nominal, 2021 est.)[4]
  • Increase $2.598 trillion (PPP, 2021 est.)[4]
GDP rank
GDP growth
  • +0.8% (2018)
  • +0.3% (2019)
  • −10.6% (2020e)
  • +5.2% (2021e)[4]
GDP per capita
  • Increase $35,061 (nominal, 2021 est.)[4]
  • Increase $43,139 (PPP, 2021 est.)[4]
GDP per capita rank
GDP by sector
  • 0.1% (2020 est.)[4]
  • 0.6% (2019)[4]
  • 1.2% (2018)[4]
Population below poverty line
  • 5.7% in poverty, 2014;[6]
  • Positive decrease 27.3% at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE, 2018)[7]
Positive decrease 32.8 medium (2019, Eurostat)[8]
Labour force
  • Decrease 22.3 million (Q1 2021)[11]
  • Decrease 56.6% employment rate (Q1 2021)[11]
Labour force by occupation
  • Positive decrease 9.0% (December 2020)[12]
  • Positive decrease 29.7% youth unemployment (15 to 24 year-olds; December 2020)[12]
  • Negative increase 2.5 million unemployed (Q1 2021)[11]
Average gross salary
€2,446 / $2,740 monthly (2019)
€1,729 / $1,936 monthly (2019)
Main industries
Decrease 58th (easy, 2020)[13]
ExportsIncrease $687.3 billion (2019 est.)[5]
Export goods
Engineering products, textiles and clothing, production machinery, motor vehicles, transport equipment, chemicals; foodstuffs, beverages, and tobacco; minerals, nonferrous metals
Main export partners
ImportsIncrease $647.1 billion (2019 est.)[5]
Import goods
Engineering products, chemicals, transport equipment, energy products, minerals and nonferrous metals, textiles and clothing; food, beverages, tobacco
Main import partners
FDI stock
  • Increase $552.1 billion (31 December 2017 est.)[5]
  • Increase Abroad: $671.8 billion (31 December 2017 est.)[5]
Increase $59.52 billion (2019 est.)[5]
$3.024 trillion (31 December 2020)[14]
Public finances
  • Steady 161.8% of GDP (2020)[15]
  • Negative increase €2.410 trillion (2019)[15]
  • €29.3 billion deficit (2019)[15]
  • −1.6% of GDP (2019)[15]
Revenues47.1% of GDP (2019)[15]
Expenses48.7% of GDP (2019)[15]
Economic aiddonor: ODA, $4.86 billion (2016)[16]
Foreign reserves
Increase $200.2 billion (31 December 2020 est.)[5]

All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.

The economy of Italy is the third-largest national economy in the European Union, the eighth-largest by nominal GDP in the world, and the 13th-largest by GDP (PPP). Italy is a founding member of the European Union, the Eurozone, the OECD, the G7 and the G20;[21] it is the tenth-largest exporter in the world, with $632 billion exported in 2019. Its closest trade ties are with the other countries of the European Union, with whom it conducts about 59% of its total trade. The largest trading partners, in order of market share in exports, are Germany (12.5%), France (10.3%), the United States (9%), Spain (5.2%), the United Kingdom (5.2%) and Switzerland (4.6%).[22]

In the post-World War II period, Italy saw a transformation from an agricultural based economy which had been severely affected by the consequences of the World Wars, into one of the world's most advanced nations,[23] and a leading country in world trade and exports. According to the Human Development Index, the country enjoys a very high standard of living. According to The Economist, Italy has the world's 8th highest quality of life.[24] Italy owns the world's third-largest gold reserve,[25] and is the third-largest net contributor to the budget of the European Union. Furthermore, the advanced country private wealth is one of the largest in the world.[26] In terms of private wealth, Italy ranks second, after Hong Kong, in private wealth to GDP ratio.

Italy is a large manufacturer (overall the second in the EU, behind Germany)[27] and exporter[28] of a significant variety of products. Its products include machinery, vehicles, pharmaceuticals, furniture, food, clothing, and robots.[29] Italy has therefore a significant trade surplus. The country is also well known for its influential and innovative business economic sector, an industrious and competitive agricultural sector (Italy is the world's largest wine producer),[30] and manufacturers of creatively designed, high-quality products: including automobiles, ships, home appliances, and designer clothing. Italy is the largest hub for luxury goods in Europe and the third luxury hub globally.[31][32]

Despite these important achievements, the country's economy today suffers from structural and non-structural problems. Annual growth rates have often been below the EU average. Italy was hit particularly hard by the late-2000s recession. Massive government spending from the 1980s onwards has produced a severe rise in public debt. In addition, Italian living standards have a considerable North–South divide: the average GDP per capita in Northern Italy significantly exceeds the EU average, while some regions and provinces in Southern Italy are significantly below the average. In Central Italy, GDP per capita is instead average.[33][34] In recent years, Italy's GDP per capita growth slowly caught-up with the Eurozone average,[35] while its employment rate still lags behind. However, economists dispute the official figures because of the large number of informal jobs (estimated to between 10% and 20% of the labour force) that lift the inactivity or unemployment rates.[36] The shadow economy is highly represented in Southern Italy, while it becomes less intense as one moves north. In real economic conditions, Southern Italy almost matches Central Italy's level.[37]


The economic history of Italy can be divided in three main phases:[38] an initial period of struggle after the unification of the country, characterised by high emigration and stagnant growth; a central period of robust catch-up from the 1890s to the 1980s, interrupted by the Great Depression of the 1930s and the two world wars; and a final period of sluggish growth that has been exacerbated by a double-dip recession following the 2008 global financial crush, and from which the country is slowly reemerging only in recent years.

Age of Industrialization[edit]

Terni steel mills in 1912.

Prior to unification, the economy of the many Italian statelets was overwhelmingly agrarian; however, the agricultural surplus produced what historians call a "pre-industrial" transformation in North-western Italy starting from the 1820s,[39] that led to a diffuse, if mostly artisanal, concentration of manufacturing activities, especially in Piedmont-Sardinia under the liberal rule of the Count of Cavour.[40]

After the birth of the unified Kingdom of Italy in 1861, there was a deep consciousness in the ruling class of the new country's backwardness, given that the per capita GDP expressed in PPS terms was roughly half of that of Britain and about 25% less than that of France and Germany.[38] During the 1860s and 1870s, the manufacturing activity was backward and small-scale, while the oversized agrarian sector was the backbone of the national economy. The country lacked large coal and iron deposits[41] and the population was largely illiterate. In the 1880s, a severe farm crisis led to the introduction of more modern farming techniques in the Po valley,[42] while from 1878 to 1887 protectionist policies were introduced with the aim to establish a heavy industry base.[43] Some large steel and iron works soon clustered around areas of high hydropower potential, notably the Alpine foothills and Umbria in central Italy, while Turin and Milan led a textile, chemical, engineering and banking boom and Genoa captured civil and military shipbuilding.[44]

However, the diffusion of industrialisation that characterised the northwestern area of the country largely excluded Venetia and, especially, the South. The resulting Italian diaspora concerned up to 26 million Italians, the most part in the years between 1880 and 1914; by many scholars it is considered the biggest mass migration of contemporary times.[45] During the Great War, the still frail Italian state successfully fought a modern war, being able of arming and training some 5 million recruits.[46] But this result came at a terrible cost: by the end of the war, Italy had lost 700,000 soldiers and had a ballooning sovereign debt amounting to billions of lira.

Fascist regime[edit]

Benito Mussolini giving a speech at the Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin, 1932.

Italy emerged from World War I in a poor and weakened condition. The National Fascist Party of Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922, at the end of a period of social unrest. However, once Mussolini acquired a firmer hold of power, laissez-faire and free trade were progressively abandoned in favour of government intervention and protectionism.[47]

In 1929, Italy was hit hard by the Great Depression.[48] In order to deal with the crisis, the Fascist government nationalized the holdings of large banks which had accrued significant industrial securities, establishing the Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale.[49] A number of mixed entities were formed, whose purpose was to bring together representatives of the government and of the major businesses. These representatives discussed economic policy and manipulated prices and wages so as to satisfy both the wishes of the government and the wishes of business.[47]

This economic model based on a partnership between government and business was soon extended to the political sphere, in what came to be known as corporatism. At the same time, the aggressive foreign policy of Mussolini led to an increasing military expenditure. After the invasion of Ethiopia, Italy intervened to support Franco's nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. By 1939, Italy had the highest percentage of state-owned enterprises after the Soviet Union.[47]

Italy's involvement in World War II as a member of the Axis powers required the establishment of a war economy. The Allied invasion of Italy in 1943 eventually caused the Italian political structure – and the economy – to rapidly collapse. The Allies, on the one hand, and the Germans on the other, took over the administration of the areas of Italy under their control. By the end of the war, Italian per capita income was at its lowest point since the beginning of the 20th century.[50]

Post-war economic miracle[edit]

The Fiat 500, launched in 1957, is considered a symbol of Italy's postwar economic miracle.[51]

After the end of World War II, Italy was in rubble and occupied by foreign armies, a condition that worsened the chronic development gap towards the more advanced European economies. However, the new geopolitical logic of the Cold War made possible that the former enemy Italy, a hinge-country between Western Europe and the Mediterranean, and now a new, fragile democracy threatened by the NATO occupation forces, the proximity of the Iron Curtain and the presence of a strong Communist party,[52] was considered by the United States as an important ally for the Free World, and received under the Marshall Plan over US$1.2 billion from 1947 to 1951.

The end of aid through the Plan could have stopped the recovery but it coincided with a crucial point in the Korean War whose demand for metal and manufactured products was a further stimulus of Italian industrial production. In addition, the creation in 1957 of the European Common Market, with Italy as a founding member, provided more investment and eased exports.[53]

These favorable developments, combined with the presence of a large labour force, laid the foundation for spectacular economic growth that lasted almost uninterrupted until the "Hot Autumn's" massive strikes and social unrest of 1969–70, which then combined with the later 1973 oil crisis and put an abrupt end to the prolonged boom. It has been calculated that the Italian economy experienced an average rate of growth of GDP of 5.8% per year between 1951 and 1963, and 5% per year between 1964 and 1973.[53] Italian rates of growth were second only, but very close, to the German rates, in Europe, and among the OEEC countries only Japan had been doing better.[54]

The 1970s and 1980s: from stagflation to "il sorpasso"[edit]

Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti (far left) with G7 leaders in Bonn, 1978.

The 1970s were a period of economic, political turmoil and social unrest in Italy, known as Years of lead. Unemployment rose sharply, especially among the young, and by 1977 there were one million unemployed people under age 24. Inflation continued, aggravated by the increases in the price of oil in 1973 and 1979. The budget deficit became permanent and intractable, averaging about 10 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), higher than any other industrial country. The lira fell steadily, from 560 lira to the U.S. dollar in 1973 to 1,400 lira in 1982.[55]

The economic recession went on into the mid-1980s until a set of reforms led to the independence of the Bank of Italy[56] and a big reduction of the indexation of wages[57] that strongly reduced inflation rates, from 20.6% in 1980 to 4.7% in 1987.[58] The new macroeconomic and political stability resulted in a second, export-led "economic miracle", based on small and medium-sized enterprises, producing clothing, leather products, shoes, furniture, textiles, jewelry, and machine tools. As a result of this rapid expansion, in 1987 Italy overtook the UK's economy (an event known as il sorpasso), becoming the fourth richest nation in the world, after the US, Japan and West Germany.[59] The Milan stock exchange increased its market capitalization more than fivefold in the space of a few years.[60]

However, the Italian economy of the 1980s presented a problem: it was booming, thanks to increased productivity and surging exports, but unsustainable fiscal deficits drove the growth.[59] In the 1990s, the new Maastricht criteria boosted the urge to curb the public debt, already at 104% of GDP in 1992.[61] The consequent restrictive economic policies worsened the impact of the global recession already underway. After a brief recover at the end of the 1990s, high tax rates and red tape caused the country to stagnate between 2000 and 2008.[62][63]

Great Recession[edit]

GDP per capita of Italy, France, Germany and Britain from 1970 to 2008.

Italy was among the countries hit hardest by the Great Recession of 2008–2009 and the subsequent European debt crisis. The national economy shrunk by 6.76% during the whole period, totaling seven-quarters of recession.[64] In November 2011 the Italian bond yield was 6.74 percent for 10-year bonds, nearing a 7 percent level where Italy is thought to lose access to financial markets.[65] According to Eurostat, in 2015 the Italian government debt stood at 128% of GDP, ranking as the second biggest debt ratio after Greece (with 175%).[66] However, the biggest chunk of Italian public debt is owned by Italian nationals and relatively high levels of private savings and low levels of private indebtedness are seen as making it the safest among Europe's struggling economies.[67][68] As a shock therapy to avoid the debt crisis and kick-start growth, the national unity government led by the economist Mario Monti launched a program of massive austerity measures, that brought down the deficit but precipitated the country in a double-dip recession in 2012 and 2013, receiving criticism from numerous economists.[69][70]

Economic recovery[edit]

The Ferrari Portofino represents the synergy of "Made in Italy" brands that strengthens the Italian economy.

In the period 2014-2019 the economy partially recovered from the disastrous losses incurred during the Great Recession, primarily thanks to strong exports, but nonetheless growth rates remained well below the Euro area average, meaning that Italy's GDP in 2019 was still 5 per cent below its level in 2008.[71]

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

Italy, starting from February 2020, was the first country of Europe to be severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,[72] that eventually expanded to the rest of the world. The economy suffered a massive shock as a result of the lockdown of most of the country's economic activity. After three months, at the end of May 2020, the epidemic was put under control, and the economy started to recover, especially the manufacturing sector. Overall, it remained surprisingly resilient, although GDP plummeted like in most western countries.[73][74] The Italian government issued special treasury bills, known as BTP Futura[75] as a COVID-19 emergency funding, waiting for the approval of the European Union response to the COVID-19 pandemic.[76] Eventually, in July 2020, the European Council approved the 750 billion € Next Generation EU fund,[77] of which €209 billion will go to Italy.[78]

Mario Draghi, former President of the European Central Bank and italian Prime Minister of a coalition government from 2021



The following table shows the main economic indicators in 1980–2020. Inflation under 2% is in green.[79]

Year GDP
(in bn. Euro)
GDP per capita
(in Euro)
GDP growth
Inflation rate
(in Percent)
(in Percent)
Government debt
(in % of GDP)
1980 213.0 3,777 Increase3.4% Negative increase21.8% 7.4% n/a
1981 Increase255.2 Increase4,517 Increase0.8% Negative increase19.5% Negative increase7.6% n/a
1982 Increase301.2 Increase5,328 Increase0.4% Negative increase16.5% Negative increase8.3% n/a
1983 Increase350.7 Increase6,200 Increase1.2% Negative increase14.7% Positive decrease7.4% n/a
1984 Increase400.9 Increase7,088 Increase3.2% Negative increase10.7% Negative increase7.8% n/a
1985 Increase450.0 Increase7,952 Increase2.8% Negative increase9.0% Negative increase8.2% n/a
1986 Increase497.5 Increase8,790 Increase2.9% Negative increase5.8% Negative increase8.9% n/a
1987 Increase544.2 Increase9,617 Increase3.2% Negative increase4.7% Negative increase9.6% n/a
1988 Increase604.8 Increase10,683 Increase4.2% Negative increase5.1% Negative increase9.7% 93.0%
1989 Increase664.0 Increase11,721 Increase3.4% Negative increase6.2% Steady9.7% Negative increase95.5%
1990 Increase722.8 Increase12,749 Increase2.1% Negative increase6.4% Positive decrease8.9% Negative increase98.8%
1991 Increase789.6 Increase13,915 Increase1.5% Negative increase6.2% Positive decrease8.5% Negative increase102.3%
1992 Increase830.9 Increase14,636 Increase0.8% Negative increase5.0% Negative increase8.8% Negative increase109.7%
1993 Increase855.9 Increase15,062 Decrease−0.9% Negative increase4.5% Negative increase9.8% Negative increase120.5%
1994 Increase905.2 Increase15,926 Increase2.2% Negative increase4.2% Negative increase10.6% Negative increase127.1%
1995 Increase985.0 Increase17,328 Increase2.3% Negative increase5.4% Negative increase11.1% Positive decrease116.9%
1996 Increase1,043.1 Increase18,350 Increase1.3% Negative increase4.0% Steady11.2% Positive decrease116.3%
1997 Increase1,089.9 Increase19,162 Increase1.8% Increase1.8% Steady11.2% Positive decrease113.8%
1998 Increase1,135.5 Increase19,954 Increase1.6% Increase2.0% Negative increase11.3% Positive decrease110.8%
1999 Increase1,171.9 Increase20,593 Increase1.6% Increase1.7% Positive decrease10.9% Positive decrease109.7%
2000 Increase1,239.3 Increase21,771 Increase3.7% Negative increase2.6% Positive decrease10.1% Positive decrease105.1%
2001 Increase1,298.9 Increase22,803 Increase1.7% Negative increase2.3% Positive decrease9.1% Positive decrease104.7%
2002 Increase1,345.8 Increase23,610 Increase0.2% Negative increase2.6% Positive decrease8.6% Positive decrease101.9%
2003 Increase1,390.7 Increase24,313 Increase0.2% Negative increase2.8% Positive decrease8.5% Positive decrease100.5%
2004 Increase1,448.4 Increase25,134 Increase1.6% Negative increase2.3% Positive decrease8.0% Positive decrease100.0%
2005 Increase1,489.7 Increase25,656 Increase1.0% Negative increase2.2% Positive decrease7.7% Negative increase101.9%
2006 Increase1,548.5 Increase26,553 Increase2.0% Negative increase2.2% Positive decrease6.8% Negative increase102.6%
2007 Increase1,609.6 Increase27,495 Increase1.5% Increase2.0% Positive decrease6.1% Positive decrease99.8%
2008 Increase1,632.2 Increase27,647 Decrease−1.1% Negative increase3.5% Negative increase6.7% Negative increase102.4%
2009 Decrease1,572.9 Decrease26,457 Decrease−5.5% Increase0.7% Negative increase7.7% Negative increase112.5%
2010 Increase1,604.5 Increase26,873 Increase1.7% Increase1.6% Negative increase8.3% Negative increase115.4%
2011 Increase1,637.5 Increase27,313 Increase0.6% Negative increase2.9% Negative increase8.4% Negative increase116.5%
2012 Decrease1,613.3 Decrease26,813 Decrease−2.8% Negative increase3.3% Negative increase10.7% Negative increase123.4%
2013 Decrease1,604.6 Decrease26,518 Decrease−1.7% Increase1.2% Negative increase12.1% Negative increase129.0%
2014 Increase1,621.9 Increase26,682 Increase0.1% Increase0.1% Negative increase12.6% Negative increase131.8%
2015 Increase1,652.1 Increase27,174 Increase0.9% Increase0.1% Positive decrease11.9% Positive decrease131.6%
2016 Increase1,689.8 Increase27,855 Increase1.1% Positive decrease−0.1% Positive decrease11.7% Positive decrease131.4%
2017 Increase1,727.3 Increase28,510 Increase1.5% Increase1.3% Positive decrease11.3% Steady131.4%
2018[80] Increase1,757.0 Increase29,049 Increase0.9% Increase1.2% Positive decrease10.6% Negative increase132.2%
2019[81] Increase1,771.5 Increase29,166 Increase0.1% Increase0.7% Negative increase10.7% Negative increase133.4%
2020[82] Decrease Decrease Decrease −9.6% Increase 0.2% Negative increase 12.7% Negative increase 159.8%
2021[83] Positive decrease


The labour productivity level of Italy. OECD, 2015[84]

Of the world's 500 largest stock-market-listed companies measured by revenue in 2016, the Fortune Global 500, nine are headquartered in Italy.[85]

Rank (World) Rank (Italy) Company Headquarters Revenue (€bn) Profit (€bn) Employees (World) Main sector
19 1 Fiat Turin 152.6 0.83 225,587 Automotive
49 2 Generali Group Trieste 102.6 2.25 74,000 Insurance
65 3 Eni Rome 93.0 1.33[86] 80,911 Petroleum
78 4 Enel Rome 83.9 2.44 62,080 Electric utility
224 5 Intesa Sanpaolo Turin 42.2 3.04 90,807 Banking
300 6 UniCredit Milan 34.6 1.88 117,659 Banking
305 7 Poste italiane Rome 34.1 0.61 142,268 Postal services
404 8 Telecom Italia Milan 26.6 0.44[87] 66,025 Telecommunications
491 9 Unipol Bologna 21.5 0.30 14,223 Insurance

Figures are for 2016. Figures in italic = Q3 2017


Italy has over 1.4 million people with a net wealth greater than $1 million, a total national wealth of $11.857 trillion, and represents the 5th largest cumulative net wealth globally (it accounts for 4.92% of the net wealth in the world).[88] According to the Credit Suisse's Global Wealth Databook 2013, the median wealth per adult is $138,653 (5th in the world),[88] while according to the Allianz's Global Wealth Report 2013, the net financial wealth per capita is €45,770 (13th in the world).[89]

The following top 10 list of Italian billionaires is based on an annual assessment of wealth and assets compiled and published by Forbes in 2017.[90]

Rank (World) Rank (Italy) Name Net Worth ($bn) Main source Main sector
29 1 Maria Franca Fissolo Ferrero & family 25.2 Ferrero SpA Food
50 2 Leonardo Del Vecchio 17.9 Luxottica Eyewear
80 3 Stefano Pessina 13.9 Walgreens Boots Pharmaceutical retail
133 4 Massimiliana Landini Aleotti 9.5 Menarini Pharmaceutical
199 5 Silvio Berlusconi 7.0 Fininvest Financial services
215 6 Giorgio Armani 6.6 Armani Fashion
250 7 Augusto & Giorgio Perfetti 5.8 Perfetti Van Melle Confectionery
385 8 Paolo & Gianfelice Rocca 3.4 Techint Conglomerate
474 9 Giuseppe De'Longhi 3.8 De'Longhi Small appliance
603 10 Patrizio Bertelli 3.3 Prada Apparels

Regional data[edit]

Map of Italian regions by GDP per capita in 2015.
2015 Gross Domestic Product in Italy (2015 data)[91][92]
Rank Region GDP €m % of Nation € per capita
 Italy 1,645,439 100.00 27,045
1  Lombardy 357,200 21.71 35,885
2  Lazio 192,642 11.09 30,967
3  Veneto 151,634 9.21 30,843
4  Emilia-Romagna 149,525 9.08 33,558
5  Piedmont 127,365 7.74 28,870
6  Tuscany 110,332 6.70 29,446
7  Campania 100,544 6.11 17,187
8  Sicily 87,383 5.31 17,068
9  Apulia 72,135 4.38 17,166
10  Liguria 47,663 2.90 30,438
11  Marche 40,593 2.47 25,971
12  Trentino-Alto Adige 40,096 2.44 37,813
13  Friuli-Venezia Giulia 35,669 2.17 29,147
14  Calabria 32,795 1.99 16,467
15  Abruzzo 32,592 1.98 24,160
16  Sardinia 32,481 1.97 19,306
17  Umbria 21,438 1.30 23,735
18  Basilicata 11,449 0.69 19,473
19  Molise 6,042 0.36 18,891
20  Aosta Valley 4,374 0.27 34,301

North–South divide[edit]

Since the unification of Italy in 1861, a wide and increasing economic divide has been growing between the northern provinces and the southern half of the Italian state. This gap was mainly induced by the region-specific policies selected by the Piedmontese elite, who dominated the first post-unitary governments.[93] To illustrate, the 1887 protectionist reform, instead of safeguarding the arboriculture sectors crushed by 1880s fall in prices, shielded the Po Valley wheat breeding and those Northern textile and manufacturing industries that had survived the liberal years thanks to state intervention.[94] While indeed the former dominated the allocation of military clothing contracts, the latter monopolized both coal mining permits and public contracts.[95] A similar logic guided the assignment of monopoly rights in the steamboat construction and navigation sectors and, above all, the public spending in the railway sector, which represented 53% of the 1861-1911 total.[96] To make things worse, the resources necessary to finance this public spending effort were obtained through highly unbalanced land property taxes, which affected the key source of savings available for investment in the growth sectors absent a developed banking system.[97] To elaborate, the 1864 reform fixed a 125 million target revenue to be raised from 9 districts resembling the pre-unitary states.[98] Given the inability of the government to estimate the land profitability, especially because of the huge differences among the regional cadasters, this policy irreparably induced large regional discrepancies.[98] To illustrate, the ex-Papal State (central Italy) took on the 10%, the ex-Kingdom of Two Sicilies (Southern Italy) the 40%, and the rest of the state (ex-Kingdom of Sardinia, Northern Italy) the 21%.[98] To weigh this burden down, a 20% surcharge was added by 1868.[98]

The 1886 cadastral reform opened the way to more egalitarian policies and, after the First World War, to the harmonization of the tax-rates, but the impact of extraction on the economies of the two blocks was at that point irreversible. While indeed a flourishing manufacturing sector was established in the North, the mix of low public spending and heavy taxation squeezed the Southern investment to the point that the local industry and export-oriented farming were wiped out.[99] Moreover, extraction destroyed the relationship between the central state and the Southern population by unchaining first a civil war called Brigandage, which brought about 20,000 victims by 1864 and the militarization of the area, and then favoring emigration, especially from 1892 to 1921.[100]

After the rise of Benito Mussolini, the "Iron Prefect" Cesare Mori tried to defeat the already powerful criminal organizations flourishing in the South with some degree of success. Fascist policy aimed at the creation of an Italian empire and Southern Italian ports were strategic for all commerce towards the colonies. With the invasion of Southern Italy, the Allies restored the authority of the mafia families, lost during the Fascist period, and used their influence to maintain public order.[101]

In the 1950s the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno was set up as a huge public master plan to help industrialize the South, aiming to do this in two ways: through land reforms creating 120,000 new smallholdings, and through the "Growth Pole Strategy" whereby 60% of all government investment would go to the South, thus boosting the Southern economy by attracting new capital, stimulating local firms, and providing employment. However, the objectives were largely missed, and as a result the South became increasingly subsidized and state dependent, incapable of generating private growth itself.[102]

Even at present, huge regional disparities persist. Problems in Southern Italy still include widespread political corruption, pervasive organized crime, and very high unemployment rates.[103] In 2007, it was estimated that about 80% of the businesses in the Sicilian cities of Catania and Palermo paid protection money;[104] thanks to grassroots movement like Addiopizzo, the mafia racket is slowly but constantly losing its verve.[105][106] The Italian Ministry of Interior reported that organized crime generated an estimated annual profit of €13 billion.[107]

Economic sectors[edit]


Vineyards near Certaldo, Tuscany. Italy is the world's top wine producer (22% of global market).[30]

According to the last national agricultural census, there were 1.6 million farms in 2010 (−32.4% since 2000) covering 12.7 million hectares (63% of which are located in Southern Italy).[108] The vast majority (99%) are family-operated and small, averaging only 8 hectares in size.[108] Of the total surface area in agricultural use (forestry excluded), grain fields take up 31%, olive tree orchards 8.2%, vineyards 5.4%, citrus orchards 3.8%, sugar beets 1.7%, and horticulture 2.4%. The remainder is primarily dedicated to pastures (25.9%) and feed grains (11.6%).[108] The northern part of Italy produces primarily Maize corn, rice, sugar beets, soybeans, meat, fruits and dairy products, while the South specializes in wheat and citrus fruits. Livestock includes 6 million head of cattle, 8.6 million head of swine, 6.8 million head of sheep, and 0.9 million head of goats.[108] The total annual production of the fishing industry in Italy from capture and aquaculture, including crustaceans and molluscs, is around 480,000 tons.

Italy is the largest producer of wine in the world, and one of the leading producers of olive oil, fruits (apples, olives, grapes, oranges, lemons, pears, apricots, hazelnuts, peaches, cherries, plums, strawberries, and kiwifruits), and vegetables (especially artichokes and tomatoes). The most famous Italian wines are probably the Tuscan Chianti and the Piedmontese Barolo. Other famous wines are Barbaresco, Barbera d'Asti, Brunello di Montalcino, Frascati, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Morellino di Scansano, Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG and the sparkling wines Franciacorta and Prosecco. Quality goods in which Italy specialises, particularly the already mentioned wines and regional cheeses, are often protected under the quality assurance labels DOC/DOP. This geographical indication certificate, which is attributed by the European Union, is considered important to avoid confusion with low-quality mass-produced ersatz products.


Italy has a smaller number of global multinational corporations than other economies of comparable size, but it has a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises, many of them grouped in clusters, which are the backbone of the Italian industry.[109] This results in a manufacturing sector often focused on the export of niche market and luxury products, that is less capable of competing on quantity but is more capable of facing the competition of emerging economies based on lower labor costs, given the higher quality of its products.[110] The industrial districts are regionalized: in the Northwest there is a large modern group of industries, as in the so-called "industrial triangle" (Milan-Turin-Genoa), where there is an area of intense machinery, automotive, aerospace production and shipbuilding; in the Northeast, an area that experienced social and economic development mostly around family-based firms, there are mostly small and medium enterprises of lower technology but high craftsmanship, specializing in machinery, clothing, leather products, footwear, furniture, textiles, machine tools, spare parts, home appliances, and jewellery. Luxury cars such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ducati motorcycles are also made in the Northeast's region of Emilia-Romagna. In central Italy there are mostly small and medium size companies specializing in products such as textiles, leather, jewelry but also machinery.[109][111]


The origins of modern banking can be traced to medieval and early Renaissance Italy, to the rich cities like Florence, Lucca, Siena, Venice and Genoa. The Bardi and Peruzzi families dominated banking in 14th-century Florence, establishing branches in many other parts of Europe.[112] One of the most famous Italian banks was the Medici Bank, set up by Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici in 1397.[113] The earliest known state deposit bank, the Bank of Saint George, was founded in 1407 in Genoa,[114] while Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded in 1472, is the oldest surviving bank in the world. Today, among the financial services companies, UniCredit is one of the largest bank in Europe by capitalization and Assicurazioni Generali is second largest insurance group in the world by revenue after AXA.

The following is a list of the main Italian banks and insurance groups ranked by total assets and gross premiums written.

As of 31 December 2013
Rank Company Headquarter Assets (€ mil.)
1 UniCredit Milan 982,151
2 Intesa Sanpaolo Turin 676,798
3 Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena Siena 197,943
4 Banco Popolare Verona 123,743
5 UBI Banca Bergamo 121,323
6 Banca Nazionale del Lavoro Rome 84,892
7 Mediobanca Milan 72,428
8 Banca Popolare dell'Emilia Romagna Modena 61,266
9 Banca Popolare di Milano Milan 49,257
10 Cariparma Parma 48,235
Insurance groups[115]
Rank Company Headquarter Premiums (€ mil.)
1 Assicurazioni Generali Trieste 70,323
2 Poste Vita Rome 18,238
3 Unipol Bologna 15,564
4 Intesa Sanpaolo Turin 12,464
5 Cattolica Assicurazioni Verona 5,208
6 Reale Mutua Assicurazioni Turin 3,847
7 Vittoria Assicurazioni Milan 1,281


Energy and natural resources[edit]

Natural resources of Italy. Metals are in blue (Al – aluminium ore, Mn — manganese, Fe – iron ore, Hg — mercury, PM – polymetallic ores (Cu, Zn, Ag, Pb), PY — pyrite). Fossil fuels are in red (C – coal, G – natural gas, L — lignite, P – petroleum). Non-metallic minerals are in green (ASB — asbestos, F — fluorite, K — potash, MAR — marble, S — sulfur).

In the early 1970s Italy was a major producer of pyrites (from the Tuscan Maremma), asbestos (from the Balangero mines), fluorite (found in Sicily), and salt. At the same time, it was self-sufficient in aluminum (from Gargano), sulphur (from Sicily), lead, and zinc (from Sardinia).[116] By the beginning of the 1990s, however, it had lost all its world-ranking positions and was no longer self-sufficient in those resources. There are no substantial deposits of iron, coal, or oil. Moderate natural gas reserves, mainly in the Po Valley and offshore Adriatic Sea, have been discovered in recent years and constitute the country's most important mineral resource. Italy is one of the world's leading producers of pumice, pozzolana, and feldspar.[116] Another mineral resource for which Italy is well-known is marble, especially the world-famous white Carrara marble from the Massa and Carrara quarries in Tuscany. Most raw materials needed for manufacturing and more than 80% of the country's energy sources are imported (99.7% of the solid fuels demand, 92.5% of oil, 91.2% of natural gas and 13% of electricity).[117][118] Due to its reliance on imports, Italians pay approximately 45% more than the EU average for electricity.[119]

Italy has managed four nuclear reactors until the 1980s, but in 1987, after the Chernobyl disaster, a large majority of Italians passed a referendum opting for phasing out nuclear power in Italy. The government responded by closing existing nuclear power plants and stopping work on projects underway, continuing to work to the nuclear energy program abroad. The national power company Enel operates seven nuclear reactors in Spain (through Endesa) and four in Slovakia (through Slovenské elektrárne),[120] and in 2005 made an agreement with Électricité de France for a nuclear reactor in France.[119] With these agreements, Italy has managed to access nuclear power and direct involvement in design, construction, and operation of the plants without placing reactors on Italian territory.[119]

In the last decade, Italy has become one of the world's largest producers of renewable energy, ranking as the second largest producer in the European Union after Germany and the ninth in the world. The country is also the world's fifth largest producer of energy from solar power. Renewable sources account for the 27.5% of all electricity produced in Italy, with hydro alone reaching 12.6%, followed by solar at 5.7%, wind at 4.1%, bioenergy at 3.5%, and geothermal at 1.6%.[121] The rest of the national demand is covered by fossil fuels (38.2% natural gas, 13% coal, 8.4% oil) and by imports.[121]


Italy was the first country in the world to build motorways, the so-called "autostrade", reserved for motor vehicles. The Milano-Laghi motorway, connecting Milan to Varese and now parts of the A8 and A9 motorways, was devised by Piero Puricelli, a civil engineer and entrepreneur. He received the first authorization to build a public-utility fast road in 1921, and completed the construction between 1924 and 1926. By the end of the 1930s, over 400 kilometers of multi- and dual-single-lane motorways were constructed throughout Italy, linking cities and rural towns. Today there are 668,721 km of serviceable roads in Italy, including 6,661 km of motorways (mostly toll roads, national and local roads), state-owned but privately operated mainly by Atlantia company.

The railway network is also extensive, especially in the north, totalizing 16,862 km of which 69% are electrified and on which 4,937 locomotives and railcars circulate. It is the 12th largest in the world, and is operated by state-owned Ferrovie dello Stato, while the rail tracks and infrastructure are managed by Rete Ferroviaria Italiana. While a number of private railroads exist and provide mostly commuter-type services, the national railway also provides sophisticated high-speed rail service that joins the major cities. The Florence–Rome high-speed railway was the first high-speed line opened in Europe when more than half of it opened in 1977. In 1991 the TAV was created for the planning and construction of high-speed rail lines along Italy's most important and saturated transport routes (Milan-Rome-Naples and Turin-Milan-Venice). High-speed trains include ETR-class trains, with the Frecciarossa 1000 reaching 400 km/h.

21st Century Silk Road with its connections to Italy

There are approximately 130 airports in Italy, of which 99 have paved runways (including the two hubs of Leonardo Da Vinci International in Rome and Malpensa International in Milan), and 43 major seaports including the Port of Genoa, the country's largest and the third busiest by cargo tonnage in the Mediterranean Sea. Due to the increasing importance of the maritime Silk Road with its connections to Asia and East Africa, the Italian ports for Central and Eastern Europe have become important in recent years. In addition, the trade in goods is shifting from the European northern ports to the ports of the Mediterranean Sea due to the considerable time savings and environmental protection. In particular, the deep water port of Trieste in the northernmost part of the Mediterranean Sea is the target of Italian, Asian and European investments.[122] The national inland waterway network comprises 1,477 km of navigable rivers and channels. In 2007 Italy maintained a civilian air fleet of about 389,000 units and a merchant fleet of 581 ships.[123]


In 2015, poverty in Italy hit the highest levels in the previous 10 years. The level of absolute poverty for a two-person family was €1050.95/month. The poverty line per capita changed by region from €552.39/month to €819.13/month.The numbers of those in absolute poverty rose nearly an entire percent in 2015, from 6.8% in 2014, to 7.6% in 2015.[124] In Southern Italy the numbers are even higher, with 10% living in absolute poverty, up from 9 percent in 2014. Northern Italy is better off at 6.7%, but this is still an increase from 5.7% in 2014.[124]

The national statistics reporting agency, ISTAT, defines absolute poverty as those who can not buy goods and services which they need to survive. In 2015, the proportion of poor households in relative poverty also increased to 13.7 from 12.9 in 2014. ISTAT defines relative poverty as people whose disposable income is less than around half the national average. The unemployment rate in February 2016 remained at 11.7%, which has been the same for almost a year, but even having a job does not guarantee freedom from poverty.[125] Those who have at least one family member employed still suffer from 6.1% to 11.7% poverty, the higher number being for those who have factory jobs. The numbers are even higher for the younger generations because their unemployment rate is over 40%. Also, children are hit hard. In 2014, 32% of those aged 0–17 are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, which is one child out of three. While in the north the poverty rate is about the same as that of France and Germany, in the south it is almost double that figure. In the last ISTAT report, poverty is in decline.[126]


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External links[edit]