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Dissertation Proposal: The New Mammoni: Why the cultural perception of Italy’s ‘mama’s boys’ is changing

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Traditional Italian family structures have historically enabled adult children to live at home ensuring adult children’s financial and emotional security.  A key component to this family structure has been the role of the mother—often discussed in Italy as the center and strength of the Italian family.  Mothers have gained status by performing doveri dimadre, motherly obligations to ensure the well-being of their children. A shrinking labor market, an unstable economy, and a recent pattern of delayed marriage has contributed to the increasingly rising age of departure for adult children in Italy.  The present thesis focuses on Italian adult males who live at home, often referred to as ‘mammoni’, or mama’s boys.  I choose to focus on men because the age of departure for men is three years older than women (the median age at which women leave the home in Italy is 27 years old, compared to men who leave at 30 years old), and morethan twice as many men between the ages of 25-35 live at home than women (52% of single men compare to 19% of single women). 

In this thesis, I argue that the perception of mammoni has changed from an accepted cultural phenomenon, to an unnecessary, remarkable, and devalued social trend.  Consequently, I argue that the negative perception of mammoni has social consequences for mothers because it threatens their status as the center of the Italian family.  By (1) critically examining the literature on Italy’s low fertility rate and the history of the Italian family from its codified “nuclear” form beginning in 1804, (2) analyzing international and Italian online news articles, TV shows and online forums on the topic of mammoni, and (3) studying the statistical demographic data on family structure in Italy, I identify the factors that account for this shift in attitude toward mammoni.  I find that the perception has changed for three reasons: first, men in Italy are living at home at older ages than ever before and some men continue to live at home even after reaching financial security; second, mammoni is often negatively associated with the poor economy in Italy in various media representations and political contexts; and third, mammoni is often negatively associated with the low fertility rate in Italy in the media.  These three factors have created a negative perception in regards to mammoni in Italy.  If male adult children are dismissed as dependent and subsequently devalued, then mothers will loose the status they gain by performing motherly obligations because they will be seen as merely enabling their son’s dependency.

Brooks Hall Conference Room, 2nd Floor

Event Date: 
Tuesday, 3 July 2012 - 10:00am to 12:00pm
Catherine Madeo
Speaker Title: 
Ph.D. Candidate, Sociocultural Anthropology
Event Type: