The Catholic precept of not having sex during Lent was maintained until the end of the Franco regime

Research from the Universitiy of Valencia (UV) and the University of Alcalà (UAH) has shown that, during the Franco regime, in Spain the number of conceptions of daughters and sons during Lent was lower than before and after this period of the Catholic calendar, following the precept of sexual abstinence. The study, published in the prestigious European Journal of Population, suggests that the change in the reproductive pattern experienced since 1975 is due to cultural factors such as the secularisation of society and the universalisation of the use of contraceptive methods, as well as family planning.


The religious calendar has been crucial in the reproductive regimes of the European population until the twentieth century and clearly defines the regime of marriages and conceptions. This paper has analysed the time of conception of all the people who were alive in 2003 and were born in Spain, as well as studying the number of conceptions before, during and after Lent. This period comprises the forty-seven days of the Christian calendar that lead up to Easter and range from Ash Wednesday (the day after the end of Carnival) to Easter Sunday (including Easter) and which in Catholicism is traditionally considered a period of sexual abstinence.


The results of our study, on the period from 1940 to 2002, show that in the first decades of the twentieth century, conceptions have a relative peak in late spring (when Lent is over), and early summer (and also during December), and this situation is maintained during the period from 1940 to 1979, «although with a tendency towards homogenisation”, highlights José Manuel Pavía, researcher of the Department of Applied Economy of the University of Valencia.


“Until now, some studies have shown that religion had clear relevance in the reproductive system prior to the demographic transition, but now we have been able to demonstrate the importance it also had in fertility until the end of the political transition”, says Carles Simó, from the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology (UV).


A significant fact is that during the first decades of the twentieth century, the effect of Lent on the number of fertilisations increased as Easter approached, when Lent ends, a situation that also persists during the Franco regime. This fact reinforces the theory of the importance of Catholic precepts in society, explains the work in which Josep Lledó, from the Department of Economics and Business Management of the UAH, also participates.


Other conclusions are that the greatest incidence, between 1940 and 1979, of the reduction in the number of conceptions starts to occur 18 days before Easter Sunday and that in the period 1980-2002 a significant increase in the number of fertilisations is detected during weekends, which confirms a significant change in the patterns that explain seasonality, with respect to the period 1940-1979.


The research did not observe any significant differences between rural and urban habitats, and in both the conceptions significantly decreased during Lent, until 1975. Researchers did detect that this fact represents a significant change with respect to the study carried out in Andalusia, in which major differences were found between large and small municipalities. As an explanation for the homogenisation in the study at the state level, they cite the rural exodus, which would have reinforced the fact that many people from rural habitats had maintained their sexual behaviour in the cities.



Pavía, Simó and Lledó have studied the data from the National Statistics Institute (INE), and specifically the number of births by date, size of the municipality and autonomous community. To calculate the date of conception, they subtracted 280 days from the date of birth (9 months and 10 days). In addition, to analyse the difference between rural and urban areas, they have established six types of geographical areas depending on the size of the municipality.


Empirical analysis is done by controlling seasonality through the time series methodology (regARIMA models) and comparing conceptions for equal periods of time between the beginning and end of Lent. Thus, the 47 days prior to Lent with the 47 days of this period; during Lent and the 47 days thereafter; taking the central part of the periods and after Lent; and conceptions between the 7 days prior to the end of Lent and the 7 days after with conceptions during the same length, but between day 21 and day 7 before Lent.




Carles X. Simó-Noguera, J. Lledó, Jose M. Pavía: “Lent impact on the seasonality of conceptions during the twentieth century in Spain». European Journal of Population. Doi: