Longevity is probably the most eloquent achievement in Italy’s history. In 1861 life expectancy at birth did not exceed 29–30 years, a testimony to the extraordinary backwardness of the country’s average living conditions at the time of unification. In the mid-2010s children in Italy can expect to live an average 82 years, and Italians rank fourth in the world, after Japan, Switzerland, and Australia, in a list of over two hundred countries. The chapter tells this success story and unravels the relative importance of the factors responsible for the dynamics of survival: improvements in public health services, progress in hygiene practices, progress in medicine, economic growth, and the role of better education. However, distributional analysis tones down the enthusiasm and neatly identifies the challenge for the near future: to narrow the gap in many health indicators between the north and the south.
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