Reasons for Emigration

The Italian population increased by approximately 25 % during the years 1871 to 1905. During the unification of Italy the land particularly in the south, which was the property of aristocrats was not as evenly distributed as some had hoped. The average small farmer did not end up with a plot of their own. Many remained without their own land. Those who owned a small plot had to see it being subdivided into smaller plots when it was passed down to the heirs. In the end the plots were often so small that they did not feed their owners anymore.

This factor coupled with the general industrialisation, which led to the loss of thousands of jobs, resulted in grave poverty particularly among the rural population. In 1900, a Sicilian farm helper earned about 8 – 32 cents per day. Other results were rising unemployment levels both in the cities and rural areas and food shortage. Extremely poor hygiene provisions in the cities such as in Naples led to isolated cases of malaria and even cholera epidemics. This resulted in parts of the city being torn down and rebuilt. With so many people losing their homes in the process they chose to leave rather than to wait for the rebuilding of their hometown.

In Italy, too, the stories from America (the “land of milk and honey”) promised a vast economic improvement. Italians might be able to make a living again, and possibly even start a real career abroad.

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