Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In 1900 about 60 percent of the population still lived by family-based agriculture. In the Sottoceneri, long-term land leasing to tenants was the primary economic arrangement and mode of production. Hunting at one time also played a role. Fishing was an economic activity on the lakesides, but as pollution has increased, fishing in the Lago Ceresio has been prohibited. Entire families are sometimes involved with a single trade such as bricklaying, plastering, carpentry, chestnut selling, chimney sweeping, or baking. Cottage industries also exist: for example, straw is woven in Valle Onsernone; cotton and silk, woven mainly in Sottoceneri and mainly by women, was another source of income until the 1930s. Mountain farming has now ended as it is not profitable. Today 80 percent of the farms are for second incomes, are smaller than 5 hectares, and produce less than 5 percent of the economic product. Some of the abandoned farms have been taken over by the neorurali, young urban German Swiss.
Industrialization in Ticino began in the second half of the nineteenth century. Capitalistic industrialization was, until the 1950s, local and traditional (half of the enterprises are still family-owned). Modernization of the economy in the 1950s and 1960s took place rapidly. Today, service (tourism, banking) is the most important sector. The banking sector grew explosively in the 1970s as foreign capital was transferred to Switzerland (Ticino is the Hong Kong of Switzerland). In general, industry in Ticino is oriented toward labor-intensive production, as the required pool of low-paid workers (Italian) is assured. Raw materials are imported from abroad, and half-finished industrial products arrive either from German Switzerland or from abroad. Export is to German Switzerland, Italy, or other countries. The banks have become internationalized (44 percent of the banks in the Ticino are foreign-owned). The industrial survival of the Ticino depends on reacting to the European marketplace.
Industrial Arts. Cattle, cheese ( formaggio di paglia), wine, and other goods—game (in the nineteenth century), skins, fish, charcoal, larch, chestnut, crystal, marble, granite—are sold at Lombardic marketplaces. The main industries at the turn of the century were food, wood, clothing, railway production, hydroelectric power, granite, tobacco, and metallurgic products. The last three are threatened today by structural changes and low-cost production elsewhere. Microelectronic and precision instruments are manufactured today as well. Construction is one of the most stable activities.
Trade. San Gottardo is the most important of the Swiss alpine passages. Today road transport (a street tunnel opened in 1980) of goods and tourist traffic during holidays is responsible for notorious traffic jams in Ticino. From Roman times the alpine passages have been used for warfare expeditions. Men were recruited as soldiers and as transporters of goods. Most of the time, taxes and tributes were paid to the respective regional lords and/or the church for protection from enemies.
Division of Labor. Public prestige is afforded primarily to men (the vote was given to women in Switzerland only in 1971). The head of the traditional agricultural families were men but as they migrated, the main work in agriculture was done by women, elderly people, and children. Women performed all the farm work (household, cattle, hay making), while the same cannot be said of men. The traditional pattern of sharing work (general reciprocity, open networks) is taken over by families of the neorurali. Even though equality in employment is the law, the idea is still widespread that a man must earn more than a woman, and when spouses are taxed together, the official form is only addressed to the man. Average salaries in Ticino are 20 percent lower than in Switzerland in general, and some women earn half of what other women earn in German Swiss towns.
Land Tenure. Land or forests in the communities can be owned privately, by several kin of the same family, or by the patriziato (the old community of the bourgeoisie). Land is attributed or loaned and work or profit is distributed by vote of the assisting persons. Land sharing (based on traditional Roman laws) is a barrier to land reform as agricultural plots become too small to be cultivated effectively.
With the development of tourism, the "sale of the Ticino" began. Since 1970 several laws have limited land sales—a limitation on selling to outsiders, a stipulation that agricultural land has to be used as such, and a limit on second residences.