Academic journal article Demographic Research

For the Times They Are a Changin' - the Respect for Religious Precepts through the Analysis of the Seasonality of Marriages. Italy, 1862-2012

Academic journal article Demographic Research

For the Times They Are a Changin' - the Respect for Religious Precepts through the Analysis of the Seasonality of Marriages. Italy, 1862-2012

Article excerpt

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1. Introduction

It is well known that the Catholic Church's prohibition of celebrating weddings during Lent and Advent operated as a significant deterrent in the respective months of occurrence (see among others Bourgeois-Pichat 1946; Lesthaeghe and Lopez-Gay 2013; van Poppel 1995).

In this paper we analyse the effect of the Lent religious restriction on marriage seasonality in the period from the unification of the Italian Kingdom (1861) to the present, which is a temporal interval characterized by a deep change in marriage seasonality (Ruiu and Gonano 2015; Breschi and Ruiu 2013).

The process of industrialization (which occurred in the Italian regions at different times and with different speeds) leading to the gradual abandonment of the primary sector has indeed resulted in gradual but deep changes in the seasonality of marriages.

The channels through which this influence has been exerted are mainly two: opportunity cost and resource availability. Regarding the opportunity cost, it seems obvious that for a farmhand the harvest months (generally the summer months) were those in which the likelihood of being employed was higher than during other periods, and therefore were those characterized by the highest opportunity cost of marriage in terms of lost wages.3 The situation was no different for small landowners, for whom these months were crucial for the survival of their families. In fact, as in Aesop's fable The Ant and the Grasshopper, farmers worked during the summer months in order to ensure the necessary resources to face the winter, when small-scale exchange of handicraft products was the only source of income.

In addition, in regions where sharecropping was widespread the autumn months were the period when sharecropping agreements were renewed, and therefore it is reasonable to assume that the dates for weddings were decided after families knew the outcome of the renewal.4

Furthermore, resource availability in rural communities was very unevenly distributed during the year. In particular, the main source of income derived from the sale of crops during the autumn months, and these were therefore also the months when farmers could afford the expense of marriage.

Therefore the transition from a rural society to an industrial society, implying a more equal distribution of workload (with the important exception of periods of paid leave) and income throughout the year, has produced an inversion of marriage seasonality, with a progressive abandonment of the winter and late autumn months counterbalanced by an increase in the attractiveness of the summer months.5

The question that this paper aims to answer is the following: has the 'modernization' process led to the disappearance of the inhibitory effect of Lent on the celebration of weddings?

The main approach used in literature to analyse the Lent effect is to interpret the low concentration of marriage in March as evidence of respect for the religious restriction. However, this simple approach is inadequate for studying the temporal evolution of the Lent effect if we are considering a historical period characterized by economic transformation. In particular, the 'March approach' completely neglects the fact that the winter and early spring months have lost the attractiveness of being a slack work season in a rural society, and therefore we are not able to establish whether the low concentration of marriage in March is due to the fact that this month is almost always completely included in the Lent period or simply to the fact that it is no longer a month with low workload intensity. To dig deeper, consider, for instance, that the Henry index of seasonality for March (see Henry 1976) in Italy was equal to 78 in 1900 and 42 in 2000: hence we might conclude that Lent is more respected in modern times than 100 years ago. However, this conclusion does not take into account the fact that the winter/early spring peak in marriage seasonality typical of an agriculture/breeding-based economy has become a trough in industrial and post-industrial societies. …

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