O R I G I N A L A R T I C L E Open Access
Superstitions, religiosity and secularization:
an analysis of the periodic oscillations of
weddings in Italy
and Gabriele Ruiu
* Correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dipartimento di Scienze
Economiche e Aziendali, Università
degli Studi di Sassari, Via Muroni, 25,
Using exhaustive data on all of the marriages celebrated in Italy 2007–2009, we
investigated the influence of superstition and religious beliefs on the choice of
wedding dates. We compared our results with those relative to postwar Italy,
gathered together by Nora Federici. Surprisingly, we found that superstition has a
constant effect in all areas of the country. At the same time, there were different
levels of religious secularization. We also found that education was not a negative
factor for religiosity.
Keywords: Superstition, Religion, Marriage seasonality, Secularization
Livi-Bacci (2000) noted how, as scientific discipline advances, a curious paradox
emerges: the need for new knowledge increases, but this need does not obey what
economists call “the law of diminishing returns”. However, the rise in the number of
research topics in an increasingly complex modern society inevitably leads to the aban-
donment of some “old-fashioned”subjects. This, at least, has been the case with the
periodic oscillations of marriages, which appeal less and less to demographers. To get
a rough quantification of this decline in interest, we ran a research enquiry through
the JSTOR repository, using the keywords: “seasonal”and “marriage”(as a criterion of
research, we only require that these two words appear together in the text, so we are
certainly overestimating the number of articles on the topic). We found that, over the
last decade, the number of papers with these words has roughly halved.
The falling off
of interest is also evident in the disappearance of seasonal decomposition from the
principle textbooks employed for demographic methodology. For instance, one of most
read textbooks in Italy,
in the 1960s and 1970s, was written by Federici (1955, 1960,
1965, 1981). In these volumes an Italian demographer dedicated an ad hoc chapter to
The special attention paid to the analysis of seasonality reflects the re-
search interests of Federici. But her chapter is also a reminder of the quality of the Italian
historical demographers of that time who were at the cutting edge, in terms of their
originality and methodological accuracy, in the study of short-term fluctuations in demo-
graphic events. Italian scientific production in those years was copious, so copious,
indeed, that we cannot give a comprehensive list of references here. However, it is enough
© 2016 The Author(s). Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
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indicate if changes were made.
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7
to look at works published from the mid-1930s onwards, in the bibliographic section of
the 10th volume produced by the Comitato Italiano per gli Studi della Popolazione (CISP
1941). Thereafter, they appear in the excellent repertories, edited by Golini (1966) from
1930 to 1965 and by Golini and Caselli (1973) for 1966 to 1971. See also Sonnino (1997)
for the works produced in the ambit of historical demography, from 1940 to 1993. There
were various issues analysed, often with great verve. Among the most intriguing works,
Federici (1964) must be citied, where she exploited an ad hoc exposure of the 1958 regis-
trations of Italian marriages. Federici took up “an interesting aspect but one that is almost
ignored in the periodic oscillations of marriages […] that inherent in the different frequen-
cies that characterize the days, the months and some particular periods of the year”(our
translation of Federici 1964, p.25). Commenting on her own work on the topic, Federici
observed that “the analysis carried out for Italy shows that, even in the late 1950s, the in-
fluence of superstitions in the choice of the wedding dates was clear: very few people got
married on the 17th day of the month and Tuesdays and Fridays, and this phenomenon
was generalized across all Italy. A narrow examination of the date fluctuations also reveals
an extraordinary concentration of marriages on days of religious or civil importance: this
last aspect shows, however, more territorial heterogeneity […] an examination of the
current situation is not possible due to the lack of data, however, there are reasons for
presuming that the phenomenon is still operating”(our translation, Federici 1981, p.
Furthermore, in the concluding remarks of her 1964 paper, Federici argued that the
real research question for the superstitious or religious influence of day-of-marriage oscil-
lations did not concern where these beliefs about marriages came from, but rather,
whether or not these beliefs would survive economic and social progress.
In regard to the effect of religious beliefs, Federici found that during Easter week the
celebration of marriages was largely avoided: this was, in all Italy, the week with the
fewest ceremonies. This phenomenon was due to an ancient Catholic rule that forbade
the solemnization of marriages (i.e. the priest’s benediction and the nuptial mass) dur-
ing the periods of spiritual preparation preceding the two main Christian festivals.
These were, of course, Advent (i.e. the 4 weeks before Christmas, a period of four Sundays,
starting in the last week of November or in the very first days of December) and Lent (the
period of 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday, Easter is a moveable feast, so the
starting date of Lent floats between 4 February and 10 March). During Easter week, this
ban becomes total since from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, marriages were strictly prohib-
ited. In general, the ban associated with the Lenten period was more strongly enforced than
the Advent ban (Lesthaeghe and Lopez-Gay 2013, Van Poppel 1995). This was probably due
to the different nature of the feasts. In addition, the introduction, in the twentieth century,
of paid Christmas holidays may have facilitated the participation of friends and relatives in
the ceremonies, thus favouring December for weddings (see Dribe and van De Putte 2012).
Despite some data access problems, the limitations encountered by Federici can be
overcome, at least for more recent periods.
Therefore, our work, which is based on an
exhaustive data collection of all marriages celebrated in Italy, 2007–2009, can take up
Federici’s question. Are superstitious and religious norms still important in choosing
wedding dates after the great changes that Italy has been through: the country, after all,
has shifted from an agriculturally based to an advanced economy; from a “young”to an
“old”country; and from a homogenous to a multicultural society? After having an-
swered this question, we will dig deeper into the religious aspects of marriage by
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 2 of 26
investigating what spousal socio-demographic characteristics are correlated (and obvi-
ously the directions of these correlations). We do this both in terms of the choice of
whether to marry with a religious rite and the tradition of not getting married during
the Lenten period. This second analysis is exploratory in nature. However, we believe
that it could prove interesting. For instance, once we have taken into account the effect
of other possible confounding factors, are better educated people more or less inclined
to marry in church? Also, are better educated couples more or less inclined to respect
We believe that this topic offers a contribution to the debate opened up in various
branches of the social sciences about the influence of cultural factors in determining in-
dividual behaviour. Cultural values and beliefs are, in fact, increasingly accepted as de-
terminants of individual choices and behaviour. For instance, in the demographic
literature, Lesthaeghe and Surkyn (1988) and Lesthaeghe and Lopez-Gay (2013) con-
sider religious secularization as one of prerequisites for the second demographic transi-
tion. Fernandez and Fogli (2009) show, empirically, the significant influence of cultural
beliefs prevailing in a father’s country of origin on the fertility decisions of second-
generation immigrants in the USA. In economics, there are various empirical works
that, building on the Weberian theory of the origin of modern capitalism, relate reli-
gious beliefs to different kinds of economic outputs (among others Barro and McCleary
2003, McCleary and Barro 2006, Guiso et al. 2003, Tabellini 2010).
The present work is organized as follows: in the next section, we will briefly present
a review of the literature on the effects of superstitious and religious beliefs on the tim-
ing of weddings; in the third section, after having briefly presented our data, we will try
to understand the persistence in time of religious and superstitious beliefs. We will do
so by comparing the descriptive statistics offered by Federici in the late 1950s with
those worked up 50 years afterwards. We will also present the results of our explora-
tory analysis on the choice of marrying with the religious rite and on the tendency to
respect the Lenten ban imposed by the Catholic Church on marriages. We round off
the work with some general considerations.
Religion, superstition and the wedding calendar: a brief literature review
The influence of religious proscriptions on the wedding calendar has often been
remarked on in demography, sociology and anthropology. In particular, it has been fre-
quently observed that in Catholic countries the ban on the solemnization of marriages
imposed by the Catholic Church during Lent and Advent operated a significant deter-
rent effect on their celebration in March (this month is almost entirely included in Lent
independently of when Easter is celebrated) and December (the Advent period gener-
ally begins on the last Sunday of November).
It must be noted that the effects of Advent are more nuanced, as the Advent ban is
characterized by a different degree of enforcement, even in different regions of the
same country (see Ruiu and Breschi 2015 for a discussion).
Lent and Advent are used by Lesthaeghe and Lopez-Gay (2013) to measure the level
of religious secularization in Belgium and Spain. González-Martín (2008), meanwhile,
analysed the seasonality of marriage in the Principality of Andorra over a very long
time span: 1600–1960. He found that, right through this period, March had the lowest
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 3 of 26
number of celebrations and he concluded that this was caused by the Lenten effect.
With regard to Advent, he found that celebrants began to ignore this ban in the early
twentieth century. Likewise, Arsenovic et al. (2015) concluded that, in Sajkaska (Repub-
lic of Serbia), religion had a huge impact on seasonality up to the twentieth century.
Van Poppel (1995) focused on the Netherlands from 1812 to 1912, reporting no signs
of secularization (measured by respect for the seasonal wedding ban) in the Catholic
regions of the country.
In his empirical work, focused on 1927–1938, Bourgeois-Pichat (1946) reported a
great degree of heterogeneity in religious secularization among the different French re-
gions. In particular, he found that the northwest of that country had less respect for re-
ligious norms regarding “forbidden”periods, while, in the southwest, people were more
inclined to respect them. In regard to France, Houdaille (1978) analysed respect for re-
ligious norms on weddings from 1740 to 1829, highlighting a substantial increase in
celebrations in both Advent and Lent during the tumultuous years of the French revo-
Focusing on Italy from 1880 to 1969, Chiassino and Di Comite (1972) show that all
Italian regions respected marriage seasonality. Similarly, Ruiu and Breschi (2015) imple-
mented a long-run analysis (1862–2012) of marriage seasonality across the Italian re-
gions. They showed that, while Lent has a less marked effect than a century ago, it is
still able to dampen down the number of Lenten weddings.
There are also empirical works that testify to the influence of religion on marriage
seasonality at the regional level: Coppa et al. (2001) analysed the case of Abruzzo, while
Sanna and Danubio (2008) studied marriage seasonality in Sardinia.
In regard to superstitions, there is a rich literature showing that May is considered a
particularly unlucky month for celebrating marriages in France, in French-speaking
Switzerland and in some regions of Italy. Monger (1994) has observed that the supersti-
tion about May was also common in England: his analysis is focused on Essex. Bonneuil
and Fursa (2013) report the widely held belief among Russian Orthodox populations
that May marriages mark couples down for indigence.
For some authors, the beliefs about May derived from the consecration of the month
to the Virgin Mary (Bourgeois-Pichat 1946). Others attribute this credence to a cultural
legacy from Roman times. Indeed, Plutarch, in his Roman Questions, reported that in
May one of the main rituals of purification, “the feast of the Argei”, was carried out. As
a result, marriage celebrations would have been, according to Roman beliefs, ominous
(see Perrenoud 1983 for a discussion of other possible explanations).
Lutinier (1987), continuing the work of Bourgeois-Pichat, analysed both Lenten and
May beliefs, from 1955 to 1983. He found that even if the deterrent effect of the Lenten
period had been diluted over time, rural regions were still more inclined to avoid the
40 days. In regard to superstitions, somewhat paradoxically, Lutinier found that super-
stitions about May were still able to significantly affect marriage seasonality.
Salvat et al. (1997) focused on 20 Spanish communities in the period 1918–1983 and
27 French communities in the period 1836–1990, all situated in the Cerdanya Valley (a
region in the eastern Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain). All these
communities have the same cultural roots and similar economic-activity profiles, so at
least in principle, they should have the same seasonal pattern of marriages. However,
with the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, these communities were arbitrarily assigned to
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 4 of 26
French or Spanish rule and thus found themselves subject to different cultural influ-
ences. Salvat et al. reported that, through this period, the “Frenchification”of the upper
part of the Cerdanya Valley became evident. May superstitions were taken seriously in
that territory, while they were simply unknown in the Spanish part of the valley.
Also, Lucchetti et al. (1996) compare marriage seasonality among nine communities
at the crossroads between France, Spain and Italy, from 1800 to 1980: they took three
communities in each country. They found that religious norms regarding Lent were
respected in all nine communities, but that May credence was found only in the French
communities and in one out of three Italian communities.
Bonneuil and Fursa (2013) analysed a very interesting area, in terms of religious di-
versity, “The Don region”in Southern Russia from 1867 to the eve of the Russian Revo-
lution. The analysis of this region allowed them to evaluate how the different religious
calendars and popular beliefs associated with the different faiths of the area affected
marriage seasonality. They found that for all the faiths in question (Roman Catholics,
Armenian-Gregorians, Lutherans Orthodox and Old Believers), respect for the religious
calendar was strong and undiminished over time in rural regions. However, in urban
areas Armenian-Gregorians, Catholics and Lutherans emancipated themselves from
their religious calendars. May superstitions were only relevant for Orthodox believers.
As to non-European countries, Barrett (1990) reports that the New Year period is
considered particularly auspicious for marriages among the Chinese, while the seventh
lunar month is a period to be avoided. Kaku and Matsumoto (1975) reported that, in
Japan, marriages are often celebrated on the days designated as tai-an, days of “great
peace”, when it is believed that success attends acts.
Finally, focusing on Italy, in addition to Federici’s work, previous research by
Corridore (1906) must also be cited. In particular, Corridore stressed how Tuesdays
and Fridays were unpopular days for weddings. The same author explains this finding
by citing the Italian proverb “né di venere né di marte ci si sposa né si parte (our trans-
lation “Neither on Friday nor on Tuesday, should you marry or start a journey”). The
influence of these superstitious beliefs on determining the timing of weddings is also
documented in studies carried out at the regional level (Forgione 2015 on Lucania,
Angius 2006 on Sardinia). See also Ferigo (1998a, b) who focused on May superstitions
in Friuli Venezia Giulia.
An empirical analysis of the effect of superstitious and religious beliefs on
Before commenting on the differences between Federici’s findings and our results, we
offer a brief introduction to the data sources used. All the analyses presented in this
section of the paper are based on the “Rilevazione annuale dei matrimoni da fonti di
stato civile”for the period 2007–2009. This data source accounts for all the marriages
legally recognized by the Italian Republic. In particular, every minister (both civil and
religious) who has celebrated a civilly valid marriage in Italy, must fill out a form with
detailed information about both the marriage (date, place, patrimonial regime chosen
by the spouses and type of rite) and the spouses (date of birth, place of birth and of
residence, nationality, occupation and level of education). These forms are then
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 5 of 26
collected by the Italian Official Statistics Institute (ISTAT). In the case of marriages
celebrated with the religious rite, we are speaking of the so-called matrimonio concor-
datario, i.e. a religious marriage recognized by the state, thanks to an official agreement
between the representatives of a religious group and the Italian State. These religious
groups are the Roman Catholic Church; the Italian Union of Adventist Churches; the
Italian Union of Jewish Communities; the Italian Union of the Evangelical Lutheran
Churches; the Italian Union of the Baptist Churches; the Waldesian Church; and the
Italian Pentecostal Evangelical Church. Even if not all religious marriages are celebrated
with this formula, at least for Catholic marriages, in the vast majority of cases (more
than 80 % of all Catholic marriages), the marriage is a “matrimonio concordatario”(see
Bonarini 2013 for more detailed data and for a discussion). The procedure to get access
to these data is particularly long and complex because of the severe privacy norms pro-
tecting them. The following steps need to be undertaken to access material: (1) the
interested researcher has to present a research project asking for access to the data; (2)
the project is evaluated by the General Direction of ISTAT; (3) if authorization is
granted, the researcher does not enter into possession of the data but he or she has to
elaborate them in the relevant data laboratory in a regional ISTAT office; (4) all the
outputs produced have to be submitted again to the General Direction, for a last check
to guarantee the non-infringement of privacy rules. These steps are the principle reason
that we have focused on such a short time period, exactly 50 years after Federici’s ana-
lysis. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first empirical work in this area using
ISTAT data (save, of course, that conducted by Federici herself ).
The time persistent effect of religion and superstition on the marriage
Tuesday and Friday are, in Italian superstition, two days that should be avoided for
celebrating marriages. In his essay on Italian superstitions, Di Nola (1993) argued that
the superstition about Tuesday may stem from the fact that in Roman times, this was
the day of the God of War, which in popular lore has become the day of discord and
enmity, and so is one ill-suited to marriage. In regard to Friday, the belief probably
originates from the fact that according to Christian tradition, this is the day that Jesus
Christ died and was, therefore, a day of penance. It must be said that the Catholic
Church does not impose a ban on the celebration of marriages on this day, but only a
“lean”day without meat: an act of penance that can be replaced with charitable actions.
The idea of negative consequences for marrying on Friday, then, may have a religious
origin, but it is not based on any religious rule.
As first evidence of the deterrent effect of superstitions, Federici (1964) reported that,
in September and October 1958, the average number of marriages on Tuesday and Friday
stood at, respectively, 145 and 36 compared with a daily mean of 1773. In regard to terri-
torial variations, Federici showed that the reluctance to marry on these two days was evi-
dent in all Italian regions. However, she also noted that spouses in Northern and Central
Italy seemed to be more careful than those in Southern Italy in avoiding these unlucky
days. What has changed 50 years later?
For the period 2007–2009, Table 1 reports the average number of marriages by week
day celebrated with civil (panel A) and religious (panel B) rites in Italy and in the five
macro-areas originally considered by Federici.
The italicized characters highlight the
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 6 of 26
day of minimum concentration. To better allow territorial comparability, we also report
an index, calculated in the following way:
100 for j ¼Sunday;Monday;…ð1Þ
is the average number of marriages celebrated in day j, while N
daily average number of celebrations for 2007–2009.
In regard to civil marriages, the North East, the South and the Islands are the macro-
areas where Sunday is the day of minimum concentration, just below what was re-
corded on Tuesday. However, it must be noted that these results partly depend on the
availability of local civil officials. In general, the spouses are constrained by town coun-
cil regulations. In some cities, marriages can be celebrated on Sundays (the day when
public offices are closed), while, in others, spouses can only choose from the other days
of the week.
Therefore, the results that are associated with Sunday must be read in the
light of these dispositions.
For religious marriages, at first, we were surprised by the results from the Islands. In
fact, with the exception of this macro-area, Tuesday is, everywhere, the day that has fewest
weddings. However, the Islands is driven by Sicily (55,673 Sicilian celebrations against
13,128 Sardinian celebrations), where the regional conference of bishops has established
that celebrations are not allowed on Sundays (the day dedicated to God).
Sicily, those who opt for the religious rite can only choose from six days of the week, not
seven. This, naturally, leads to an increase in the number of Tuesday weddings.
Table 1 Average number of marriages per day of the week, Italy and its macro-areas, 2007-2009
Ita. N. W. N. E. C. S. Isl.
A. Civil marriages
Sunday 118.6 49.4 27.6 37.7 6.5 19.7 66.8 89.4 13.3 36.0 4.4 20.0
Monday 145.9 60.8 44.4 60.7 13.9 41.8 35.3 47.2 36.7 99.3 15.6 71.0
Tuesday 87.9 36.6 22.9 31.4 11.0 33.1 16.4 22.0 20.5 55.6 17.0 77.3
Wednesday 126.3 52.6 24.0 32.8 13.0 39.3 39.0 52.1 30.5 82.5 19.9 90.5
Thursday 242.5 101.1 62.4 85.4 21.3 64.3 61.6 82.4 68.8 186.4 28.4 129.0
Friday 141.7 59.1 42.6 58.3 18.2 55.0 37.5 50.1 25.6 69.2 17.8 81.0
Saturday 819.1 341.4 288.8 395.0 148.7 448.2 267.7 358.1 63.1 170.8 50.9 231.4
Total 240.0 100.0 73.1 100.0 33.2 100.0 74.8 100.0 36.9 100.0 22.0 100.0
B. Religious marriages
Sunday 398.3 94.0 82.4 101.5 32.0 84.3 156.4 170.5 101.5 67.6 26.0 41.4
Monday 183.3 43.3 22.7 27.9 3.3 8.7 18.8 20.5 110.0 73.2 28.6 45.6
Tuesday 90.9 21.4 7.1 8.7 1.9 5.0 6.6 7.2 44.6 29.7 30.7 48.9
Wednesday 162.8 38.4 11.3 14.0 1.7 4.4 10.8 11.8 92.2 61.4 46.8 74.6
Thursday 240.6 56.8 22.3 27.5 2.2 5.8 19.9 21.7 144.2 96.0 52.0 82.8
Friday 200.2 47.2 38.2 47.1 3.9 10.4 22.5 24.5 86.9 57.8 48.6 77.5
Saturday 1697.8 400.5 386.3 475.5 221.3 583.8 409.1 446.0 473.8 315.3 207.3 330.2
Total 423.9 100.0 81.2 100.0 37.9 100.0 91.7 100.0 150.3 100.0 62.8 100.0
Source: our elaborations on “Rilevazione annuale dei matrimoni da fonti di stato civile, 2007–2009”
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 7 of 26
Federici noted, 50 years ago, that Central Italy was the area where people care the
most about not getting married on unlucky days (together with the North East, if we
consider religious marriages). This still seems to be the case 50 years later.
If the Tuesday superstition is still operating, there is, for Friday, a diminution in belief
with respect to the situation depicted by Federici. Here let us offer two considerations.
First of all, a recent survey carried out by an Italian Association of consumers (Feder-
consumatori) reported that the cost for marriage is substantially lower when it is cele-
brated from Monday to Friday, rather than on Saturday or Sunday. The amount that is
saved by marrying on one of the weekdays could amount to 25 % of the total cost, if
the marriage is celebrated in summer (the season when most weddings take place in
Italy). Second, Friday is very near to the weekend and, therefore, offers the possibility
of the greater participation of friends and relatives, especially in the evening, due to the
potential day off work. So, economic convenience, together with the proximity of the
weekend, makes this day, at least in principle, a good choice. Furthermore, if spouses
plan to organize their honeymoon after the ceremony, thanks to the proximity to the
weekend, they may save days of work leave since Saturday and Sunday are generally
days in which people are free from work. Indeed, someone ignorant of the relevant su-
perstitions might have expected Friday to have a greater appeal.
We now focus on another another superstition, “the heptadecaphobia”(the fear of
the number 17), which is less subject to the bias produced by local religious/civil dispo-
sitions. In all of the Italian regions, the number 17 is considered unlucky. According to
Federici’s analysis, this belief was clearly reflected in the dramatic contraction of the
number of weddings celebrated on the 17th of each month. In particular, Federici re-
ported that the deterrent effect was widespread in all of regions, with the strongest ef-
fect produced in Central Italy.
In Fig. 1 (panels a and b), we report, for each macro-area, an index built in a similar
way with respect to equation (1), but using as the numerator the average number of
marriages celebrated on each day from the first to the 31st and the daily average num-
ber of marriages for the entire 2007–2009 period as the denominator. Heptadecaphobia
seems to be diffused to the same extent in all macro-areas. Federici declared that she
was surprised that Southern Italy, which is usually seen as more traditionalist than the
North, did not stand out and perhaps was even less superstitious in this respect. We
have the same findings 50 years later.
It is also worth noting that the deterrent effect played by the number 17 operates for
both civil and religious marriages, though note that “17”marriages are slightly less
likely in religious marriages.
We also looked at the combination of Friday with the 17th day of the month.
This day is the Italian equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon Friday the 13th: it is, in other
terms, the day that, according to superstition, must be absolutely avoided. It should be
noted that Friday the 17th weddings were so rare that we were not able to make the
same macro-decompositions in Italian territories proposed in Table 1, without violating
one of ISTAT’s privacy norms.
In particular, we had to pool together the North West
and the North East of the country.
We were, likewise, not able to produce a table that
distinguished the types of rite (religious or civil) chosen by spouses. Table 2, neverthe-
less, reports the number of marriages celebrated on each Friday the 17th in the 3-year
period 2007–2009 in comparison to the number of marriages celebrated on the other
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 8 of 26
Fridays of the same month and with the average daily number of marriages celebrated
in the corresponding month. In general, the frequencies calculated for each Friday are
lower than the daily average of the respective month. However, in the case of Friday
the 17th, a further depressive effect is evident.
It is worth noting that, in the case of marriages celebrated in April 2009, 10 April is
Good Friday. This is a unique case in which a Friday that is not the 17th of the month
has the lowest frequency.
Table 2 Marriages (civil and religious) celebrated on Friday the 17th in Italy, 2007–2009
MM/DD/YYYY Ita. N. C. S. Isl. MM/DD/YYYY Ita. N. C. S. Isl.
8/3/2007 470 109 59 206 96 4/3/2009 143 67 24 33 19
8/10/2007 431 52 39 213 127 4/10/2009 120 65 21 18 16
8/17/2007 146 21 23 66 36 4/17/2009 125 50 29 32 14
8/24/2007 382 73 51 155 103 4/24/2009 487 183 60 151 93
8/31/2007 529 165 73 191 100
Daily average in
697 152 133 315 118 Daily average in
463 196 80 133 54
10/3/2008 407 141 61 127 78 7/3/2009 709 196 105 264 144
10/10/2008 378 117 58 115 88 7/10/2009 639 170 93 233 143
10/17/2008 132 44 28 33 27 7/17/2009 345 113 64 111 57
10/24/2008 261 84 49 81 47 7/24/2009 778 228 111 271 168
10/31/2008 212 77 50 59 26 7/31/2009 581 150 78 217 136
Daily average in
678 267 128 184 88 Daily average in
1023 364 204 313 142
Source: our elaborations on “Rilevazione annuale dei matrimoni da fonti di stato civile, 2007–2009”
a- Civil Marriages
b- Religious Marriages
Fig. 1 a,bThe effect of the superstition of the 17th day on marriages. Italy and macro-areas, 2007–2009
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 9 of 26
Our results are worth comparing with those obtained by the 2010 Euro-barometer
survey on the attitudes of Europeans towards scientific progress. In particular, accord-
ing to that survey, 58 % of Italian respondents claimed to believe to the existence of
lucky/unlucky numbers. Only the Czech Republic and Latvia, at, respectively, 60 and
59 %, were higher.
As further evidence of the surprising diffusion of superstitions in Northern-Central
Italy with respect to Southern Italy, we used Google Trend to investigate how often
Italians consult online horoscopes. Torgler (2007) suggested that the habit of consult-
ing horoscopes may be indicative of a tendency to believe in a sort of institutionalized
superstition that, however, has no scientific basis. Google Trend allows us to compare
the popularity of search terms on Google. In particular, it offers an index of popularity,
which is calculated by dividing the number of searches that include the query term (de-
fined by the User) by the total number of online search queries submitted during a
period defined by the User. This result is then normalized so that its maximum value
over the period is set equal to 100, and the rest of the series is scaled appropriately,
obtaining the so-called popularity index. Normalization using the total number of
searches allows us to neutralize geographical differences in terms of web access across
Italian regions. Unfortunately, this is the only way in which Google Trend data can be
exploited by users: for instance, Google Trend does not furnish the actual number of
searches and, thus, it does not allow us to compare interest between different topics.
To at least partly avoid the influence of Internet availability on our results, we limited
the period of observation from January 2010 to January 2015. The results are reported
in Fig. 2. Again, it is surprising to see that one Northern region (Lombardy) and one
Central region (Latium) are the most assiduous in consulting horoscopes. Furthermore,
when cities are considered, the first five positions in the popularity rank for horoscopes
are as follows: Milan, with a popularity index (pop. index from now) equal to 100
(Northern Italy, capital of Lombardy); Rome (pop. index: 99); Bologna, with a pop.
index equal to 80 (Northern Italy, capital of Emilia Romagna); Naples, with a pop.
index equal to 74 (Southern Italy, capital of Campania); Turin, with a pop. index equal
to 73 (Northern Italy, capital of Piedmont). Obviously, it is impossible to establish
whether those who consult the horoscope make different daily decisions as a result. In
the case of marriages, it is difficult to reconcile other possible explanations for avoiding
ceremonies on the 17th (which in principle is as good as any other day in the month).
However, in the case of horoscopes, even if suggestive, this is a further descriptive
element to add to the overall picture showing that despite the North–South economic
gradient, beliefs in mysterious forces (luck, cosmic influence, etc.) are still strong across
the country as noted by (Federici 1964).
In regard to religious beliefs, as reported above in the second section of this work,
the demographic literature has shown that the Catholic Church’s prohibition on cele-
brating marriages during Lent and Advent operated as a significant deterrent for those
periods. Referring to Lent dispositions, Federici (1964) noted that, in 1958, the daily
average of weddings during Easter week stood at 77 in Italy (333, if we consider the
whole of Lent), against a daily mean of 1023 marriages for the year. Furthermore, an
explosion in the number of marriages was observed during the week immediately fol-
lowing Easter week (daily average of the week 2741 marriages). Thus, we seem to see
here weddings that were postponed so as not to violate the Lenten ban. In regard to
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 10 of 26
territorial differences, Federici also reported that the Lenten ban was strongly respected
across the country and that North Eastern Italy had the strongest adherence to this reli-
gious norm. Recent work carried out by Ruiu and Breschi (2015) shows that Lenten dispo-
sitions are still responsible for fluctuations in the number of marriages celebrated in April
in Italy. In particular, they use data, from the creation of the Italian state in 1861 to the
present day, and exploit the variability in the number of Lent days falling in April in each
year. They show that there is a strong and significant correlation, even in recent times, be-
tween the oscillations on April Lent days and the de-trended number of marriages cele-
brated in this month. Unfortunately, their analysis was based on data aggregated at the
regional level and, therefore, they were not able to analyse the tendency with respect to
the Lenten rule in function of the socio-demographic characteristics of the spouses.
Before comparing Federici’s findings with those of the modern day, it may be worth
examining the territorial diffusion of religious marriages, as a more general indication
of secularization in Italy. In particular, in Fig. 3, we report the percentage of marriages
celebrated with the religious rite in each Italian province in the period 2007–2009. We
do not have this data for the period analysed by Federici. However, in 1958, 98.2 % of
Fig. 2 Google Trend Population Index of the query “horoscope”. Italian regions, 2010–2015
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 11 of 26
marriages in Italy were celebrated with the religious rite. It can be safely assumed, then
that almost all marriages were celebrated in church.
In Fig. 3, the darker colour indicates a higher percentage of religious marriages. It is
immediately evident that, in the South (with the exception of Sardinia), the vast major-
ity of celebrations take place in a church (in Sicily, Apulia and Calabria, more than
80 % of marriages were celebrated with the religious rite).
Finally, considering Lent, Table 3 reports the absolute number of religious marriages
celebrated in Italy during Holy Week in the 3 years, 2007–2009, during the week before
Fig. 3 Percentage of religious marriages out of total celebrations, 2007–2009
Table 3 Absolute numbers of religious marriages celebrated during Holy Week, 2007–2009
Italy North Centre South Island
Week before Holy Week 2007–2009 1479 458 269 627 125
Holy Week 2007–2009 187 79 30 66 12
Week after Holy Week 2007–2009 8121 3356 1294 2390 1081
Source: our elaborations on “Rilevazione annuale dei matrimoni da fonti di stato civile, 2007–2009”
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 12 of 26
Holy Week and the week after Easter. Because of the infrequency of the event, we were
forced to put together the North West and North East, and to consider the 3 years to-
gether. We also want to stress that, since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic
Church has relaxed the constraints on celebrating Lenten marriages. In particular, the
ban on the solemnization of marriages has been substituted by a milder recommenda-
tion for sobriety in any celebrations in what is, after all, a period of penance.
Here, too, we can conclude that very little has changed from the situation described
by Federici. Despite the Church relaxing restraints, somewhat, the depressing effect of
Holy Week means a 90 % drop in the number of marriages in all macro-areas with re-
spect to the previous week. It is, also, worth noting that the recovery in the number of
marriages in the week immediately following Easter is still evident. Thus people are still
likely to postpone marriages, rather than let them be celebrated in Easter week.
An individual level analysis of the choice of marrying in church or during Lent
In the previous section, we looked at the effects of both superstitions and religious be-
liefs on the timing of marriages in Italy. In this section, our aim is, first of all, to give a
descriptive picture, in terms of socio-economic characteristics, to those whom, in
2007–2009, opted for a religious marriage. Then, we will focus on the choice of getting
married in Lent. One might surmise that those aspects that favour the choice of the re-
ligious rite are negatively correlated with the choice of violating Lent: i.e. those who are
more likely to opt for the religious rite are, at the same time, also less likely to violate
the Lenten ban. If this is so, then, we have, in our opinion, an insight that the choice of
the religious rite reflects an adherence to religious beliefs and not a choice about re-
specting the tradition of marrying in the church.
In Table 4, we investigate the individual characteristics that are associated with the choice
of marrying with the religious rite. In particular, in column (a), we report the results of a lo-
gistic regression, where the dependent variable is a dummy that is equal to one when a
marriage has been celebrated with the religious rite (obviously, it is equal to 0 in the case
of civil marriage): the regressors are, meanwhile, a set of socio-demographic characteristics
of the spouses (occupational status, educational level, age, nationality and previous civil sta-
tus), in addition to the year and province fixed effects. In column (b), we reported the re-
sults of a linear probability model (LPM) estimated with the same left- and right-hand side
variables. We are aware that given the dichotomous nature of our dependent variable this
is not the most appropriate model. However, we also furnish the results of this estimation
to ensure that our results do not depend on the assumption made on the link function in
the logistic model. The names of the variables included in the r.h.s. of the regression are
mostly self-explanatory, and greater detail will be given in the text when needed.
Unsurprisingly, the age of the spouses is negatively related to the probability of
marrying with the religious rite. However, this is probably not because young people
are more religious than older people. This effect is probably due to the fact that the
younger the spouses, then the more likely they are to want to make their marriage an
event that they will remember for the rest of their lives. In the vast majority of cases,
getting married with the civil rite in Italy implies marrying in an anonymous office in
the town hall: a religious ceremony means marrying in a church, possibly a cathedral,
often, in Italy, a building of striking beauty. Therefore, younger couples are more likely
to opt for the religious rite independently of religious sentiments (see Vignoli and Salvini
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 13 of 26
Table 4 Socio-demographic characteristics associated with the choice of marrying with the
religious rite: results from a multivariate logistic regression. Italy, 2007–2009
(a) Logit (b) Linear Probability Model
Odds ratio S.E. Coeff. S.E.
Age of the groom 0.955 (0.004)*** −0.007 (0.001)***
Age of the bride 0.989 (0.001)*** −0.002 (0.001)***
Occupation of the groom (ref. white collar)
Entrepreneur 1.113 (0.040)*** 0.013 (0.004)***
Self-employed 1.091 (0.032)*** 0.010 (0.004)***
Other autonomous work 0.912 (0.053) −0.009 (0.008)
Manager 0.884 (0.040)*** −0.025 (0.006)***
Blue collar 0.984 (0.029) −0.002 (0.004)
Other dep. worker 0.889 (0.039)*** −0.021 (0.007)***
Unemployed 0.491 (0.031)*** −0.105 (0.011)***
Looking for a job 0.433 (0.037)*** −0.122 (0.016)***
Retired 1.279 (0.093)*** 0.097 (0.010)***
Student 0.525 (0.039)*** −0.105 (0.012)***
Unable to work 0.378 (0.063)*** −0.119 (0.018)***
Other 0.638 (0.066)*** −0.044 (0.013)***
Occupation of the bride (ref. white collar)
Entrepreneur 0.855 0.023)*** −0.026 (0.005)***
Self-employed 0.798 0.022)*** −0.036 (0.005)***
Other autonomous work 0.829 0.039)*** −0.025 (0.007)***
Manager 0.889 0.029)*** −0.022 (0.005)***
Blue collar 0.822 0.027)*** −0.029 (0.005)***
Other dep. worker 0.867 0.043)*** −0.017 (0.006)**
Unemployed 0.498 0.041)*** −0.099 (0.011)***
Looking for a job 0.594 0.047)*** −0.070 (0.010)***
Retired 0.725 0.095)** −0.071 (0.013)***
Student 0.471 0.023)*** −0.103 (0.007)****
Unable to work 0.760 0.036)*** −0.045 (0.008)***
Other 0.271 0.059)*** −0.190 (0.029)***
Education of the groom (ref. primary)
University degree 1.734 (0.106)*** 0.061 (0.009)***
Some university 1.449 (0.077)*** 0.034 (0.007)***
High school 1.551 (0.096)*** 0.044 (0.009)***
Middle school 1.375 (0.081)*** 0.026 (0.009)***
Education of the bride (ref. primary)
University degree 1.511 (0.094)*** 0.070 (0.008)***
Some university 1.382 (0.071)*** 0.055 (0.007)***
High school 1.390 (0.077)*** 0.053 (0.008)***
Middle school 1.103 (0.059)* 0.014 (0.008)
Prev. civ. status of the groom (ref. single)
Widower 0.949 (0.101)** −0.041 (0.015)***
Divorced 0.058 (0.006)*** −0.328 (0.015)***
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 14 of 26
2014, for a discussion of this issue). Vignoli and Salvini argue, indeed, that young spouses
tend to get married with the religious rite for two reasons: first, the aesthetics of this kind
of celebration; and second, the social pressure of parents and relatives. A further point is
worth making here: since at the second marriage the bride and bridegroom are, in general,
older than those who are marrying for the first time and given that the Catholic Church
has always been intransigent about divorce, it is unlikely that those celebrating a second
marriage will or, indeed, can choose a religious rite (this is confirmed by the results of our
Therefore, the fact that younger people are more willing to opt for the reli-
gious rite may just demonstrate that younger people are more likely to make an occasion
of their first marriage, while older couples are, in many cases, forced by Catholic norms to
opt for the civil rite. However, since we are controlling for civil status, we believe that this
criticism does not apply here.
Education (both for the groom and wife) is positively related to the likelihood of
marrying with the religious rite. This result may seem counterintuitive. In fact, with
respect to education, one may argue that more educated people tend to apply more
scientific thinking. Therefore, they also tend to reject beliefs that posit the existence of
supernatural forces. However, McCleary and Barro (2006), using survey data for 68
countries, find that, though religiosity tends to decline with economic development,
not all dimensions of development work in the same way, with education exerting a
positive effect on religiosity and urbanization exerting a negative one. They explain this
finding, arguing that “[R]eligious beliefs, like many theoretical hypotheses, require ab-
stract thinking or ‘faith’. If highly educated people are more capable of the speculative
reasoning that is needed for intellectual inquiry, they may also be more able or willing
to make the abstractions needed to support religious beliefs. From this perspective,
more educated people might be more religious”(2006, p. 151). Our results, which were
obtained with a completely different data source, seem to confirm McCleary and Bar-
ro’s argument. It must be said that the usual empirical findings according to which the
Table 4 Socio-demographic characteristics associated with the choice of marrying with the
religious rite: results from a multivariate logistic regression. Italy, 2007–2009 (Continued)
Prev. civ. status of the bride (ref. single)
Widowed 0.543 (0.048)*** −0.101 (0.013)***
Divorced 0.069 (0.005)*** −0.282 (0.008)***
Nationality (ref. both Italian)
Groom is Italian, bride is not Italian 0.104 (0.006)*** −0.363 (0.01)***
Groom is not Italian, bride is Italian 0.077 (0.005)*** −0.472 (0.01)***
Both not Italian 0.050 (0.019)*** −0.502 (0.036)***
Year (ref. 2007)
2008 0.924 (0.012)*** −0.0112 (0.002)***
2009 0.886 (0.011)*** −0.0188 (0.0021)****
Number 727,572 727,572
McFadden’s Pseudo R
In both columns, the dependent variable is a dummy equal to 1 when spouses have chosen the religious rite and
Significance: *0.10; **0.05; ***0.01. Cluster (at provincial level) robust standard errors reported; controlling for province
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 15 of 26
relation between the individual’s educational level and religious attendance is positive
(see also Iannaccone 1998) has recently been questioned. Hungerman (2011) used
changing time at school (the years of compulsory attendance demanded by the state) as
an instrument variable to identify the relationship between completed schooling and
later religiosity. He found a negative relationship between the degree of religiosity and
educational level among non-Catholic Christians in Canada.
Mocan and Pogoroleva (2014) followed the same approach and replicated this economet-
ric analysis for eleven European countries, taking into account superstitious beliefs as well.
They confirmed that education reduces attendance and religious practices, as well as
the propensity to believe in superstitions.
Even if we admit that the relationship between education and religiosity is complex and
more empirical efforts have to be implemented to definitively establish its direction, in
our opinion, the empirical strategy proposed by Hungerman has some drawbacks.
For instance, it may be argued that compulsory schooling reform is an effective way
to increase the years of education, but only for those who would, otherwise, have left
We suspect that these kinds of reforms do not influence those individuals who would
have achieved a higher level of education, in any case.
If one is willing to accept the idea that educational attainment is related to cognitive
ability, then it may be argued that the reform increases education levels only for less able
individuals: those that, according to McCleary and Barro, have less capacity to make the
speculative reasoning necessary to sustain religious beliefs. Therefore, even if an increase
in education for “low ability individuals”may reduce their level of religiosity, this does not
mean that this effect is linearly translated for all education levels. Among occupational
status, entrepreneurs and the self-employed are those most likely to opt for the religious
rite. This category of workers is the one that, in principle, might benefit more from a reli-
gious group’s social network. Indeed, having a large social network may be of crucial im-
portance for entrepreneurs in terms of information exchange, workforce recruitment and
financial and social support (see Stuart and Sorenson 2005 for a discussion). However, this
effect seems to disappear for female entrepreneurs. A possible interpretation of this gen-
der difference can be traced in Renzulli et al. (2000). In particular, according to Renzulli
and colleagues, female entrepreneurs tend to have networks that are mainly kin-based,
while in comparison, male entrepreneurs tend to have more heterogeneous networks.
Therefore, if male entrepreneurs are those that are more likely to establish a network out-
side the family circle, and possibly in the ambit of their religious group, it seems reason-
able that they will be more likely to get married in church.
Spouses that are not Italian tend to opt for civil marriages. This result makes sense,
of course. In fact, with this control variable, we are probably capturing the effect of not
belonging to one of the religious faiths that has entered into an agreement with the
Italian State for the civil recognition of religious marriages.
In Figure 5 in the Appendix, we report, with a thematic map, the results associated
with provincial dummies. The results are very similar to those reported in Fig. 3.
Having given some evidence about the factors associated with the choice of marrying
with the religious rite, we now focus on the choice of marrying in Lent.
In Table 5 we report a logistic regression (column a) and a LPM (column b), in which
the dependent variable is a variable named lent that assumes a value equal to one when
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 16 of 26
Table 5 Socio-demographic characteristics associated with the choice of marrying during the
Lenten period: results from a multivariate logistic regression. Italy, 2007–2009
(a) Logit (b) Linear Probability Model
Odds ratio S.E. Coeff. S.E.
Age of groom 1.004 (0.005) 0.001 (0.000)
Age of wife 1.005 (0.002)** 0.001 (0.000)*
Occupation of the groom (ref. white collar)
Entrepreneur 1.088 (0.038)** 0.001 (0.000)**
Self-employed 1.101 (0.048)** 0.002 (0.000)***
Other autonomous work 1.127 (0.115) 0.0018 (0.001)
Manager 1.054 (0.075) 0.001 (0.001)
Blue collar 0.963 (0.032) −0.001 (0.000)
Other dep. worker 1.216 (0.125)* 0.0037 (0.002)*
Unemployed 1.295 (0.099)*** 0.005 (0.002)**
Looking for a job 1.195 (0.167) 0.003 (0.003)
Retired 1.193 (0.160) 0.007 (0.004)*
Student 1.537 (0.237)*** 0.009 (0.004)**
Unable to work 1.709 (0.762) 0.0136 (0.014)
Other 0.892 (0.236) −0.002 (0.005)
Occupation of the bride (ref. white collar)
Entrepreneur 1.252 (0.054)*** 0.004 (0.000)***
Self-employed 1.148 (0.083)* 0.002 (0.001)*
Other autonomous work 0.826 (0.105) −0.003 (0.002)
Manager 0.893 (0.087) −.002 (0.001)
Blue collar 1.006 (0.040) 0.001 (0.000)
Other dep. work 1.098 (0.113) 0.001 (0.002)
Unemployed 1.317 (.078)*** 0.005 (0.001)***
Looking for a job 1.341 (0.076)*** 0.005 (0.000)***
Retired 1.291 (0.331) 0.007 (0.007)
Housewife 1.329 (0.071)*** 0.005 (0.001)***
Student 1.237 (0.094)*** 0.003 (0.001)**
Unable to work 0.833 (0.740) −0.003 (0.013)
Other 1.890 (0.516)** 0.012 (0.007)*
Education of the groom (ref. primary)
University degree 0.923 (0.118) −.001 (0.002)
Some university 0.942 (0.165) −0.001 (0.003)
High school 0.982 (0.133) −0.001 (0.003)
Middle school 1.001 (0.130) 0.001 (0.002)
Education of the bride (ref. primary)
University degree 0.779 (0.078)** −0.005 (0.002)*
Some university 0.778 (0.099)** −0.005 (.003)
High school 0.865 (0.088) −0.003 (0.002)
Middle school 0.946 (0.100) −0.001 (0.003)
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 17 of 26
a marriage has been celebrated during Lent and zero otherwise. Meanwhile, the regres-
sors are the set of individual characteristics of the groom and bride already used in the
analysis presented in Table 4, in addition to a set of dummies for each province of cele-
bration. The sample is limited to all of the marriages celebrated with the religious rite
in the 3 years, 2007–2009. To make Table 5 as clear as possible, we report the results
associated with provincial dummies via a thematic map in Fig. 4.
In particular, in Fig. 4, we present the thematic map reporting the results associated
with each provincial dummy. In this case, a lighter colour indicates a strong respect for
religious norms. The colours are assigned on the basis of the odds ratios that are asso-
ciated with each provincial dummy. These may be, in fact, interpreted as an indicator
of a higher (or lower) inclination to obey the religious norm with respect to the prov-
ince of reference (Rome).
Before commenting on territorial differences, we will focus here on individual factors.
The age of the wife has a small positive (but statistically significant) effect on the prob-
ability of getting married during Lent. This is, again, compatible with the explanation
of marriage as “an event to remember”. In fact, marrying during Lent means sobriety in
terms of church decorations, musical accompaniment, and the like, thus, we would
suggest, younger spouses are reluctant to marry in this period.
Better educated people tend to avoid the period of religious penance, in comparison
to less educated peers. Interestingly, the role of education is only statistically significant
for the bride. A possible explanation for this is that education makes people more in-
clined to follow the rules that their communities impose. Glaeser and Sacerdote (2008)
offer an alternative explanation of this result. They argue that education increases
returns from networks and other forms of social capital. Therefore, better educated
Table 5 Socio-demographic characteristics associated with the choice of marrying during the
Lenten period: results from a multivariate logistic regression. Italy, 2007–2009 (Continued)
Prev. marital status of the groom (ref. single)
Widower 1.580 (0.362)** 0.013 (0.007)*
Divorced 1.662 (0.198)*** 0.013 (0.004)***
Prev. marital status of the bride (ref. single)
Widow 1.679 (0.308)*** 0.015 (0.008)*
Divorced 1.501 (0.177)*** 0.012 (0.004)***
Nationality (ref. both Italian)
Groom is Italian, bride is not Italian 1.604 (0.113)*** 0.011 (0.002)***
Groom is not Italian, bride is Italian 1.737 (0.181)*** 0.012 (0.003)***
Both not Italian 1.642 (0.580) 0.012 (0.010)
Year (ref. 2007)
2008 0.704 (0.024)*** −0.005 (0.000)***
2009 1.022 (0.030) 0.001 (0.518)
Number 464,593 464,593
McFadden’s Pseudo R
In both columns, the dependent variable is a dummy equal to 1 when spouses have chosen to get married during Lent
***<0.01; **<0.05; *<0.10. Cluster (at provincial level) robust standard errors reported; controlling for province
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 18 of 26
people would participate in various group activities, including religious services, be-
cause this is a way to build social capital. The fact that only female education seems to
be important is probably due to the fact that marriages are traditionally organized by
the bride’s family.
Additionally, occupational status seems to be highly significant in statistical terms
for both the groom and bride. In general, those who are unemployed or looking
for a job are more likely to get married in this period of the year. A possible ex-
planation here is wedding costs. As reported above, the cost varies with the period
chosen, therefore, opting for a period in which weddings are infrequent allows for
a cheaper wedding.
A different motivation might be relevant for entrepreneurs
and the self-employed. In particular, it is reasonable to assume that, with Easter,
the pace of work for a private firm is slower than during many other periods of
the year (small Italian firms tend to have Easter holidays), and this may reduce the
cost of marrying in that period.
Fig. 4 Provincial differences in the tendency to get married during Lent, 2007–2009
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 19 of 26
We are able, in our data source, to distinguish whether or not a wedding has been
celebrated with the religious rite, but, unfortunately, we are unable to distinguish the
religious faith to which the spouses belong. This effect may be, in part, the result of
spouses coming from another country and other religious traditions. Indeed, when one
of the spouses is not Italian, the probability of observing a marriage during Lent in-
creases. A possible explanation for this is that when one of the spouses is not Italian,
the weight of the cultural traditions of the other spouse is eased. This would be either
because one of the spouses is not Catholic or because he or she comes from a Catholic
country where the Lent prescription was not enforced. If this interpretation is cor-
rected, it may seem surprising that there is not a statistical significant difference be-
tween couples in which the spouses are Italian or where neither are Italian. However, in
Table 4, we show that when neither spouses are Italian, they are very unlikely to marry
with the religious rite. Therefore, the results are probably influenced by the extreme
rareness of the event.
In regard to territorial differences, the Centre and South are more inclined to get
married in church and to avoid Lenten weddings. This result may seem to contrast
with that reported by Ruiu and Breschi (2015). In particular, they claim that the
North is more likely to respect religious precepts. However, it must be noted that
fact, Ruiu and Breschi’s analysis is based on annual regional data on the number of
celebrations in April. As such, we must consider a much wider interval of time
(approximately 30 years), while estimating a mean effect for this time interval on
the fluctuations in April marriages, in terms of Lenten days that fall in this month.
Therefore, if we want to measure change, it makes more sense to compare the pic-
ture of the country taken by Federici (1964) with the one proposed in this work,
rather than Ruiu and Breschi (2015), who aimed to describe the transition from
the old model of wedding seasonality to the current one, a change that naturally
took place over a long period.
Finally, considering the results associated with year dummies, we find that, in
2008, Italian spouses were more careful in avoiding the Lenten period with respect
to 2007, while there is not a statistical significant difference between 2009 and
2007. Why? The great recession started in the USA in 2007, but the economic
emergency began for Italy only in 2008. One possibility is that economic distress
made people more careful in respecting religious norms, but after a period of
adaptation they turned back to a previous level of religiosity. In our opinion, this
issue could be better explored both with qualitative interviews and with more de-
tailed data on church attendance.
In her concluding remarks, Nora Federici (1964) left, to future researchers, the task of
testing whether economic developments and improvements in education levels would
see Italians be less subject to superstitions and religious beliefs.
What has changed from the times of the Italian economic miracle to the present?
From an economic and demographic point of view, the immediate answer is
surely “everything”. However, if we focus on superstitions, we have shown that the
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 20 of 26
whole country (with marginal differences among macro-areas) is very careful to
avoid marriages on unlucky days: Tuesday and the 17th day of each month, with a
further compounding effect produced whenthe17thfallsonaFriday(theday
regarded by the Italian folklore as the most ominous). Using Google Trend data,
we have also shown that another form of superstition, namely horoscopes, is more
diffused in Northern Italy than in Southern Italy. However, while it is difficult to
reconcile the avoidance of the 17th to anything other than superstition, we are un-
able to judge whether people are influenced in their daily actions by what they
read in their horoscopes.
In regard to religion, we observed larger differences with respect to the picture of-
fered by Federici. In particular, Northern Italy seems to be more secular than Southern
Italy, even if religious dispositions still influence marriage seasonality as noted by Ruiu
and Breschi (2015). Our work completes their analysis by explaining which factors are
the most plausible drivers for secularization in the North. It must also be said that this
difference may be, at least in part, attributed to the larger incidence of mixed national-
ity couples in the North, which perhaps eased the weight of a religious tradition that
was once dominant across Italy (see ISTAT 2011).
How can we reconcile the persistence of superstitious beliefs with the observed
secularization of religion?
Using McCleary and Barro’s words: “…[O]ne conclusion is that religious beliefs
and superstitious beliefs are very different. A possible reason is that religious be-
liefs are compatible with increased education and knowledge, whereas the supersti-
tious beliefs are not”(2006, p. 169). Therefore, according to McCleary and Barro,
education is positively associated with religiosity (this aspect is confirmed by our
empirical results), but negatively associated with superstitions. McCleary and Barro
also show that not all dimensions of economic development act in the same way
as secularization. For instance, urbanization is found to be negatively correlated
with religiosity. This may explain why the South, which is less economically devel-
oped, is also less secularized. On the other hand, this does not help explain the in-
triguing puzzle of the persistence of superstitions.
An analysis of the relationship between religious beliefs and superstitions carried out
by Torgler (2007) offers food for thought here. Torgler finds that being an adherent to
a religious faith is positively related to the probability of believing in superstitions: per-
haps there is a predisposition among the religious to accept the existence of supernat-
ural forces. However, at the same time, being actively religious exerts a negative effect
on the probability that this is able to completely offset the first positive effect: Torgler’s
finding is compatible with the efforts made by the Catholic Church to eradicate the
supernatural heritage of the pagan era.
Therefore, a possible explanation for the paradox may be formulated as follows:
economic progress (with the exception of education) means the secularization of
religious beliefs. This, in turn, may lead to a re-emersion of superstitious beliefs, if
economic progress is not able to completely compensate for the effect of declining
religiosity. This interpretation is coherent with another finding reported by
McCleary and Barro (2006), according to which, in the former Soviet countries,
where religious practices were limited by the Communist regime, there is both a
low level of religiosity and a generalized tendency to believe in superstitions. This
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 21 of 26
is, for instance, the case in a high income, high-level secularized country, such as
Latvia, while it is not the case for a low income, low-level secularized country like
If this interpretation is correct, a clear policy suggestion for combating superstitions
would be to improve education, which, at the same time, seems not to be a determinant
of religious secularization.
Finally, we want to again stress Nora Federici’s achievement in individuating a
research topic that, despite the current disinterest in wedding seasonality, is, in our
opinion, still rich in promise, not only for demographers but also for social scien-
tists, more generally.
We limited ourselves to the demographic periodicals that have a long tradition (they
have been continuously published from at least 1975), namely Demography, Genus,
Population Studies, International Migration Review, Population and Development
Review, Studies in Family Planning and Population. For the period 1975–1984, the
research engine offers 859 research articles; 974 for 1985–1994; 823 for 1995–2004; but
only 456 for 2005–2014We also want to stress that in the ambit of historical demog-
raphy, there is perhaps a less visible decline due to a lack of other data sources. The
seasonality of weddings is still used to infer information on the level of development in
a given society.
However, this observation is not limited to Italy or wedding seasonality. For
instance, (Rau 2007) argued that: “Nowadays, seasonal effects in demographic
variables are rarely the centre of attention in population studies - although most
basic indicators such as births, deaths, marriages…are subject to annual fluctua-
tions. The last monograph on seasonality in mortality was published more than
25 years ago.”(p. 2).
Nora Federici (1910–2001) was the first woman to receive the IUSSP Laureate
Award in 1992. For more details on her scientific activity see (Sonnino 2001).
According to Italian folklore, on Tuesday and Friday, weddings must be avoided,
while the number 17 (instead of 13 in the English-speaking world) is considered to be a
day of ill fortune.
These data are considered sensitive and are, therefore, protected by severe privacy
norms. This means that their use for research purposes is only admitted after official
authorization by the central direction of ISTAT. To further ensure privacy, researchers
must also elaborate the data in ISTAT’s laboratories, without ever taking possession of
the data source.
In particular, the macro-areas are composed of as follows: North West—Lombardy,
Piedmont, Aosta Valley, Liguria; North East—Trentino Aldo Adige, Veneto, Friuli
Venezia Giulia; Centre—Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, Latium, Marche; South—-
Campania, Abruzzo, Molise, Apulia, Calabria, Basilicata; Islands—Sicily, Sardinia.
Consider, for example, that the city of Bologna allows civil celebrations from
Thursday to Sunday from 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.; Turin allows weddings on Mon-
day, Thursday and Saturday (on Saturday, with a fee); while, in Naples, weddings
can, in principle, be celebrated on all days of week, but with an extra fee on
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 22 of 26
Saturdays and Sundays: i.e. the cost for the celebration is €200 on a working day,
rising to €500 for Sunday.
In Apulia, there is also a similar disposition of the curia.
According to this norm, it is not possible to produce descriptive statistics that in-
volve fewer than ten statistical units.
Emilia Romagna has been considered as part of the North macro-area so as to not
violate the ten units rule. Note that this region is usually considered as a Northern re-
gion in Italian official statistics. The exception is Federici’s decomposition and not the
one proposed in Table 3.
This assumption is also, in part, supported by the fact that divorce only entered the
Italian legal system in the year 1970. Therefore, prior to 1970, second civil marriages of
separated couples were not allowed.
This result is, in part, driven by the fact that in Northern Italy, both mixed nation-
ality marriages and second marriages of divorced people are more diffused than in
Southern Italy (see ISTAT 2011).
Note that if a divorced person comes from a religious marriage, Catholic
norms exclude the possibility of a second religious marriage, while this is not
true in the case of a first civil marriage (i.e. a divorced person from a former
civil marriage could in principle celebrate his/her second marriage with a
As an anonymous referee pointed out, one may test for the presence of non-
linearity in the relation between age and religiosity by including a set of dummies
for different age classes. Even if the literature signals the possibility of this non-
linearity (see Argue et al. 1999), this econometric exercise would seem more useful
for an analysis of church attendance or self-perceived degrees of religiosity. As this
study focused on weddings, the sample includes a very small proportion of older
spouses, who are concentrated in the categories “widowed”,“widower”or “retired”.
In this case, it will be impossible to empirically distinguish the effect of being in
the “older age”class from that of coming from a previous marriage. See Table 6 in
the Appendix for some descriptive statistics reporting the age of spouses in terms
of their previous marital status.
The survey carried out by Federconsumatori reported that, in Italy, in 2009, a wed-
ding with 100 guests costs on average €27,000.
Table 6 Average age at the marriage by previous marital status. Italy 2007–2009
Year Groom Bride
Single Widower Divorced All status Single Widowed Divorced All status
2007 32.64 61.49 47.87 34.17 29.93 48.93 42.31 30.96
2008 32.90 61.22 48.08 34.47 30.16 48.41 42.57 31.25
2009 33.12 60.90 48.34 34.76 30.39 48.33 42.90 31.51
Source: Istat, Rapporto annuale sui matrimoni in Italia, 2009
Breschi and Ruiu Genus (2016) 72:7 Page 23 of 26
All the elaborations of the data coming from the “Rilevazione annuale dei matrimoni”were carried out at the
Laboratory for the Analysis of Elementary Data (ADELE) at the ISTAT regional office of Cagliari and performed in
compliance with all the regulations regarding the protection of statistical confidentiality and of personal data.
The findings and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent official
statistics. We want to thank the personnel of the ISTAT office of Cagliari for their kindness and courtesy.
A draft of this paper was presented at the Conference of the Italian Society of Historical Demography held in Udine,
8–10 October 2015. We thank all participants for their comments.
Finally, we thank two anonymous referees for their valuable comments and suggestions that have significantly
improved the quality and the robustness of the paper.
All authors have contributed equally to each section of the work. All authors have read and approved the final version
of the document.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests
Received: 4 February 2016 Accepted: 15 July 2016
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