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A woman shops at one of Italy’s ‘free’ supermarkets, available to those supporting a family and struggling economically. The study noted an increasingly uneven spread of wealth throughout Italian society over the past decade.TONY GENTILE/Reuters

The wealth of Italian families has fallen more than 40 per cent in the past 10 years according to a study released on Friday, as a prolonged recession after years of stagnation hits households.

Financial net worth per family fell 40.5 per cent to €15,600 ($20,000) in 2011 from €26,000 a decade earlier, according to Rome-based think-tank Censis.

The findings show the scale of the challenge facing the country, still dogged by recession after a year under a technocrat government appointed to save Italy from a debt crisis built up over years of high spending and stagnant growth.

Almost all who responded to the survey said they had cut back on luxury purchases to try to reduce their spending, while 73 per cent said they had sought out special offers and bought cheaper food.

"I try to save on clothes shopping and household necessities. The prices keep going up but my pension stays the same, so I have to be careful," pensioner Clara Francetti said as she browsed discount socks at a market stall in Rome.

"Holidays? Out of the question."

Four in 10 families had given up a holiday and cut down on clothes shopping, while 65.8 per cent said they drove their cars and motorbikes less to save on fuel, the study said.

Low consumer spending has long been a weakness of the Italian economy, compounded by salaries that have lagged behind inflation over the past decade.


One in 10 families have sold gold and jewels in the past two years to raise cash, the study said. Shops that buy gold for cash have proliferated as struggling Italians sell their valuables to pay the bills.

Just under 18 per cent of families were not able to cover all their expenses with their salaries, the study found. Roman housewife Selma, 36, said she had stopped eating breakfast at cafés to save money.

"It has affected everything, from food shopping down. I count everything," Selma said as she shopped at a stall offering a deal of three woollen sweaters for €10.

"I have two children. I spend less on myself to be sure of having enough for them."

The study noted an increasingly uneven spread of wealth throughout society, with the number of families with a net wealth of over €500,000 almost doubling, while the share of total wealth held by middle class families dropped 18 percentage points to 48.3 per cent.

The study noted a shift of wealth to older members of the population, with households under the age of 35 accounting for 5.2 per cent of wealth in 2011 compared with 17.1 per cent in 1991.

Italian youth unemployment is more than three times the national rate, hitting a record high of 36.5 per cent last month.

"We have survived a decade of crisis since 2001 that has only sharpened with a lack of government action," Censis director Giuseppe Roma said. "It is perhaps time to find a way of governing that addresses these realities."