Mamma’s boys

An Italian court has forced parents to continue paying child support for their 29-year-old son. Dominic Standish reports from Veneto.

Dominic Standish

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Italian parents are the latest victims of a syndrome that is afflicting the whole of Western Europe: their thirtysomething sons and daughters are refusing to fly the nest and become independent adults.

Tanguy, a new French film, tells the true story of a 30-year-old Italian who sued his mother after she tried to change the locks to her house. It is difficult not to sympathise with Tanguy’s parents in the film, who employ ever-more extreme measures to encourage their son to leave home.

‘Tanguy syndrome’ made big news in Italy on 4 April 2002, when Italy’s highest court ordered Giuseppe Andreoli to continue paying €774 a month in child support to his 29-year-old son Marco. While still financially dependent on his father, Marco has a €258,000 trust fund, a law degree, and a propensity to refuse good job offers. Yet the judges rejected dad’s claims that he is ‘fed up’ with supporting an adult man – deciding that Marco was justified in refusing jobs that he considered ‘inappropriate to his specific training, habits, attitudes and interests’.

The Italian Constitution is partly to blame for this decision. It specifies that parents must support their children and provide for their education, without indicating when this responsibility ends. Italian civil law has established that the ‘child’ can decide whether he or she has achieved economic autonomy and courts uphold autonomy as the same standard of living as the child’s parents (1). I can see myself campaigning for a change in the laws before my 21-month-old son reaches adulthood.

But there is more to this than the constitution. Across the Western world, more and more young people – especially men – seem to be staying at the parental home for longer. Between 1995 and 2000, the proportion of 30- to 34-year-olds living at home in Italy rose from 20 to 27 percent, while fewer than 20 percent of women remained at home (2). Seventy percent of 29-year-old mammoni (mamma’s boys) live with their parents.

In Italy, there has been a tradition of sons and daughters staying at home until they got married or saved up enough money to buy their own homes – but today, it just seems that many young Italians have little aspiration to become independent. As Italian psychologist Gianna Schelotto says: ‘Up until the 1980s, young people wanted emancipation from their families, even if it meant going out and cleaning dishes. Today, 30-year-olds still feel young and aren’t prepared to make sacrifices.’

Some claim that greater economic pressures, like high rents, are responsible for keeping young adults at home. But in Italy, young adults from wealthy families are even more likely to stay at home. According to Giovanni Sgritta, a sociologist at La Sapienza University, graduates are 30 percent more likely to stay at home than non-graduates. This trend was reflected in a court verdict handed down last week, which stated: ‘You cannot blame a young person, particularly from a well-off family, who refuses a job that does not fit his aspirations. The parents have to pay for their upkeep.’ Mamma mia!

It’s time for young adults to stop whining and start living.

Dominic Standish is a columnist for the Italy Daily section of the International Herald Tribune and runs Progress Consulting in the Veneto region of Italy (dstandish@europe.com).

Read on:

An anti-independence culture, by Jennie Bristow

(1) ‘High court defends right to lay about’, Christopher Emsden, Italy Daily section of the International Herald Tribune, 5 April 2002

(2) ‘Figli ad “assegno” condizionato’, Emanuele Lucchini Guastalla, Il Sole 24 Ore, 6 April 2002

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