Research by University of Valencia links celibacy during Lent with birth rate

Carles Simó, Jose Manuel Pavía, Josep Lledó
Carles Simó, José Manuel Pavía, Josep Lledó.

For centuries in catholic populations, a precept has prevailed according to which sexual intercourses were prohibited during Lent, which comprises the 47 days previous to Easter. Nowadays in Spain we are in the midst of the 21st century and within a secular society in which couples consciously control their fertility. Taking that into account, we could as ourselves what was the effect of this religious prohibition in 20th century Spain.

A study carried out by the University of Valencia proves that the religious precept that prohibited sexual intercourse during Lent had repercussion in a decrease of conceptions and a rise after this time period. The study has been done by the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, even though the preliminary results appear to suggest that the conclusions would be comparable to the other Spanish regions.

This research, carried out by University of Valencia professor Carles X. Simó (Sociology and Social Anthropology) and José M. Pavía (Applied Economics) and researcher Josep Lledó, has been published in scientific journal magazine RIS. The study shows that births experimented a profound transformation in their season variation between 1901 and 2002. This coincides with the drastic drop in fecundity levels which happened in the 20th century Spanish society. The results demonstrate that child-bearing population had a tendency to respect the religious prefect that prohibited sexual intercourse during Lent. With this conclusion, scholars prove that sociocultural factors (catholic moral ruling in this case) were really important, at least in this region, before and after the fecundity transition. It should be bared in mind that birth-control measures and family planning were not commonplace at the time.

According to the researchers, these results are evidence that pre-modern birth seasonal variation was not only ruled by agricultural and environmental circumstances, but also my religious precepts.

This investigation shows how during the 20th century, the population ceased to follow the religious precept of the prohibition of sexual intercourse during Lent. As stated in the study, it began to cease significantly first in cities of over 50000 inhabitants. Its effect disappeared completely around the 1980, which occurred simultaneously with the last phase of the descend in fecundity, which was below average and has continued until present day. The study also shows how a new sociocultural factor is affecting conceptions and sexual customs of Spaniards as a consequence of modernisation process. Researchers detected that from 1980 onwards more conceptions occur during the months with the most weekends. This weekend effect is in line with timework distributions and current societal leisure time.


Complete article (in Spanish):

Josep Lledó, Carles X. Simó-Noguera, José M. Pavía (2018) “Abstención sexual durante la Cuaresma en Andalucía a lo largo del siglo XX y su impacto en la estacionalidad de los nacimientos”, Revista Internacional de Sociología, vol. 76, (2018).


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