ROME (Reuters) - Fewer babies were born in Italy in 2015 than in any year since the modern state was founded 154 years ago, and the population shrank for the first time in three decades, data showed on Friday.
Adding to the gloomy picture, the number of deaths jumped more than 9 percent over the previous year.
That left Italy with its highest mortality rate since World War Two as life expectancy levels unexpectedly dropped.
With the economy stagnating, the slump in productivity has increasingly affected potential parents as well over the past five years, national statistics office ISTAT said.
"Just as the lack of positive prospects for manufacturers puts a brake on investments, difficulties young couples face, above all with work and housing, hamper their plans to have children," ISTAT said in its annual demographic report.
"A general sense of insecurity at many levels of society" was making people wait longer to have fewer children, ISTAT said. Italy peeped out of recession last year, but growth rates remains weak and joblessness high.
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Italy sees fewest births ever in 2015, population drops
NOLA, ITALY - JUNE 28: People look at 25-metre tall 'giglio,' wood and papier-mache statues in the central square during the annual Festa dei Gigli 'The Lily Festival' on June 28, 2015 in Nola, Italy. In 2014 the famous festival became a UNESCO World Heritage site. When St. Paolini, (355- 431 AD) the bishop of Nola, returned in a boat after freeing the town's men from captivity at the hands of the Saracens, he was welcomed by the population with lilies ('gigli'). To carry the Gigli, 120 men, called 'paranza,' shoulder one another and walk slowly through the town. (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)
Elderly people work out with wooden dumb-bells in the grounds of a temple in Tokyo on September 21, 2015, to celebrate Japan's Respect for the Aged Day. The estimated number of people aged 80 or older in Japan topped 10 million for the first time, the government announced. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
MANILA, PHILIPPINES - JANUARY 09: Black Nazarene devotees clamber on top of one another to to touch the cross during the Feast of Black Nazarene on January 9, 2015 in Manila, Philippines. The Feast of the Black Nazarene culminates in a day long procession on January 9 as barefoot devotees march to see and touch the image of the Black Nazarene. The Black Nazarene is a dark wood sculpture of Jesus brought to the Philippines in 1606 from Spain and considered miraculous by Filipino devotees. The event falls a week ahead of the visit of Pope Francis who will travel to Leyte and Manila during his visit to the Philippines from January 15 - 19. The visit is expected to attract crowds in the millions as Filipino Catholics flock to catch a glimpse of the leader of the Catholic Church. The Philippines is the only Catholic majority nation in Asia with around 90 percent of the population professing the faith. (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)
CORK, IRELAND - AUGUST 22: Newly crowned Redhead King and Queen, Alan Reidy and Grainne Keena pose with a crowd full of red heads at the Irish Redhead Convention which celebrates everything to do with red hair held in the village of Crosshaven on August 22, 2015 in Cork, Ireland. Some of the events include the coronation of the Redhead King and Queen, Carrot-tossing, ginger speed-dating, best red beard, best red dog, freckle counting and a redhead parade. The Convention began as a friendly joke between redheaded siblings Joleen and Denis Cronin and also serves as a fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society raising awareness about skin cancer and melanoma. Red hair is the rarest of hair colours and accounts for just 0.6% of the global population. Ireland has the second highest per capita population of redheads at 10%, next only to Scotland at 13%. The United States is believed to have less than 2% of redheads. (Photo by Clodagh Kilcoyne/Getty Images)
LHOKSUKON, ACEH, INDONESIA - MAY 13: Rohingya and Bangladesh migrants rest inside a shelter on May 13, 2015 in Lhoksukon, Aceh province, Indonesia. Boats carrying over 500 of Myanmar's Rohingya refugees have arrived in Indonesia, many requiring medical attention. They have warned that thousands more are thought to be still at sea. Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim community have long been persecuted and marginalized by Myanmar's mostly Buddhist population. (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
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The number of births fell to 488,000 in 2015, down almost 3 percent on the year, while deaths jumped to some 653,000, up 9.1 percent. ISTAT said this increase was particularly marked during the winter months, when the flu virus is most active, and in July, when Italy was hit by a heat wave.
The average age fell to 84.7 years for women from 85 and 80.1 years for men from 80.3 -- the sharpest drop since such records began in 1974.
Immigration had kept Italy's population stable in recent years, but the number of migrants obtaining residency has almost halved since 2007 to some 245,000.
By the same token, 100,000 Italians emigrated last year, up 12.4 percent on 2014, as Italy "loses its attractiveness both for foreign citizens and its own countrymen", ISTAT said.
All these factors combined to cut Italy's population by 139,000 to 60.7 million -- the first fall since a miniscule decline in 1986 and effectively ending a run of almost non-stop growth that dated back to 1952, ISTAT said.
(Reporting by Isla Binnie, Editing by Crispian Balmer)