Intensity of Agricultural Workload and the Seasonality of Births in Italy

  • Gabriele RuiuEmail author
  • Marco Breschi


According to “the energy balance mechanism” theory, female ovarian function is strongly hindered by even a modest negative energy balance (the difference between calorie intake and calorie consumption). Agriculture-based economies were characterized by periods of extremely intense workload (especially in summer when grain was harvested) without sufficient nutrition. We analyze the role of the intensity of agricultural workload (proxied by marriage seasonality) on seasonal oscillations in births. Using data at the regional level, from Italian Unification to the eve of the World War I, we find some empirical support for the energy balance theory. In particular, we find the strength of the relationship between marriage seasonality and birth seasonality to be lower in the more developed Northern part of the Italian country, in which some signs of industrialization had already been present.


Seasonality of births Seasonality of marriages Energy balance Economic development Agricultural calendar 



The research activity carried out by Gabriele Ruiu has been in part financed by the “Fondo per il finanziamento dei dipartimenti universitari di eccellenza” (Law nr. 232/2016).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights

This research has not involved human and animal participants.


  1. Bai, J., & Perron, P. (1998). Estimating and testing linear models with multiple structural changes. Econometrica, 66, 47–78.Google Scholar
  2. Bai, J., & Perron, P. (2003a). Computation and analysis of multiple structural change models. Journal of Applied Econometrics, 18, 1–22.Google Scholar
  3. Bai, J., & Perron, P. (2003b). Critical values for multiple structural change tests. Econometrics Journal, 6, 72–78.Google Scholar
  4. Bailey, R. C., Jenike, M. R., Ellison, P. T., Bentley, G., Harrigan, A. M., & Peacock, N. R. (1992). The ecology of birth seasonality among agriculturalists in central Africa. Journal of Biosocial Science, 24(3), 393–412.Google Scholar
  5. Baroni, U. (1964). La periodicità delle nascite lungo il secolo delle rilevazioni demografiche in Italia (1862–1962). Rivista Italiana di Economia, Demografia e Statistica, 18(3–4), 151–174.Google Scholar
  6. Bell, R. M. (1979). Fate, honor, family and village: Demographic and cultural change in rural Italy since 1800. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Beltrami, V. (2011). Italia D’Oltremare. Storia dei territori italiani dalla conquista alla caduta. Roma: Edizioni Nuova Cultura.Google Scholar
  8. Black, R. E., Allen, L. H., Bhutta, Z. A., Caulfield, L. E., de Onis, M., Ezzati, M., et al. (2008). Maternal and child undernutrition: Global and regional exposures and health consequences. The Lancet, 371(9608), 243–260.Google Scholar
  9. Bobak, M., & Gjonca, A. (2001). The seasonality of live birth is strongly influenced by sociodemographic factors. Human Reproduction, 16(7), 1512–1517.Google Scholar
  10. Bonardi, L. (2014). Espace et production vitivinicoles en Italie depuis l’unification italienne jusqu’à aujourd’hui (p. 6). Territoires du vin: Tendances et étapes principales.Google Scholar
  11. Bongaarts, J., & Potter, R. G. (1979). Fertility effect of seasonal migration and seasonal variation in fecundability: Test of a useful approximation under more general conditions. Demography, 16(3), 475–479.Google Scholar
  12. Breschi, M., Esposito, M., Mazzoni, S., & Pozzi, L. (2012). The Sardinian Experience of the lowest Italian infant mortality at the turn of the twentieth century. Annales de démographie historique, 1(123), 63–94.Google Scholar
  13. Breschi, M., Esposito, M., Mazzoni, S., & Pozzi, L. (2014). Fertility transition and social stratification in the town of Alghero, Sardinia (1866–1935). Demographic Research, 30(28), 823–852.Google Scholar
  14. Breschi, M., & Livi-Bacci, M. (1986). Saison et climat comme contraintes de la survie des enfants. L’expérience italienne au XIXe siècle. Population, 41(1), 9–35.Google Scholar
  15. Breschi, M., & Livi-Bacci, M. (1997). Month of birth as a factor of children’s survival. In A. Bideau, B. Desjardins, & H. Pérez-Brignoli (Eds.), Infant and child mortality in the past (pp. 157–173). Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  16. Bronson, F. H. (1995). Seasonal variation in human reproduction: Environmental factors. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 70(2), 141–161.Google Scholar
  17. Buckles, K. S., & Hungerman, D. M. (2013). Season of birth and later outcomes: Old questions, new answers. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 95(3), 711–724.Google Scholar
  18. Butte, N. F., & King, J. C. (2005). Energy Requirements during pregnancy and lactation. Public Health Nutrition, 8(7A), 1010–1027.Google Scholar
  19. Chiassino, G., & Di Comite, L. (1972). Le fluttuazioni stagionali dei matrimoni in Italia e nelle singole regioni. Rassegna economica, 36(6), 1535–1553.Google Scholar
  20. Coppa, A., Di Donato, L., Vecchi, F., & Danubio, M. E. (2001). Seasonality of marriages and ecological contexts in rural communities of central-southern Italy (Abruzzo), 1500–1871. Collegium Antropologicum, 25(2), 403–412.Google Scholar
  21. Crisafulli, C., Dalla Zuanna, G., & Solero, F. (2000). La stagionalità delle nascite di ancien régime nelle provincie italiane e in Calabria. Popolazione e Storia, 1, 177–198.Google Scholar
  22. Cummings, D. R. (2002). The seasonality of human births, melatonin and cloud cover. Biological Rhythm Research, 33(5), 521–559.Google Scholar
  23. Cummings, D. R. (2007). Additional confirmation for the effect of environmental light intensity on the seasonality of human conceptions. Journal of Biosocial Science, 39(3), 383–396.Google Scholar
  24. Cummings, D. R. (2010). Human birth seasonality and sunshine. American Journal of Human Biology, 22(3), 316–324.Google Scholar
  25. Cummings, D. R. (2012). Canadian birth seasonality and its possible association with seasonal brightness. Canadian Studies in Population, 39(1–2), 45–62.Google Scholar
  26. Dalla Zuanna, G. (2010). Tacit consent: The Church and birth control in Northern Italy. Population and Development Review, 37(2), 361–374.Google Scholar
  27. Dalla Zuanna, G., & Rosina, A. (2010). An analysis of extremely high 19th century winter neonatal mortality in a local context of northeastern Italy. European Journal of Population, 27(1), 33–55.Google Scholar
  28. Daniele, V., & Malanima, P. (2014). Falling disparities and persisting dualism: Regional development and industrialisation in Italy, 1891–2001. Economic History Research, 10, 165–176.Google Scholar
  29. Danubio, M. E., & Amicone, E. (2001). Biodemographic study of a central appenine area (Italy) in the 19th and 20th centuries: Marriage seasonality and reproductive isolation. Journal of Biosocial Science, 33(3), 442–449.Google Scholar
  30. Danubio, M. E., Di Donato, L., Vecchi, F., & Coppa, F. (2002). Natality and the changing pattern of seasonality of births in the province of Teramo (Abruzzo, Italy: 1500–1871). Journal of Biosocial Science, 35(3), 321–334.Google Scholar
  31. Delgado Perez, M., & Livi-Bacci, M. (1992). Fertility in Italy and Spain: The lowest in the world. Family Planning Perspectives, 24(4), 162–167.Google Scholar
  32. Derosas, R. (2009). The joint effect of maternal malnutrition and cold weather on neonatal mortality in nineteenth-century Venice: An assessment of the hypothermia hypothesis. Population Studies, 63(3), 233–251.Google Scholar
  33. Doblhammer, G., Lee Rodgers, J., & Rau, R. (1999). Seasonality of birth in nineteenth and twentieth century Austria: Steps toward a unified theory of human reproductive seasonality. Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, MPIDR Working Paper WP 1999-013.Google Scholar
  34. Domenech, J. (2007). Working hours in the European periphery: The length of the working day in Spain, 1885–1920. Explorations in Economic History, 44, 469–486.Google Scholar
  35. Dorélien, A. M. (2015). Effects of birth month on child health and survival in sub-Saharan Africa. Biodemography and Social Biology, 61(2), 209–230.Google Scholar
  36. Dribe, M., & van de Putte, B. (2012). Marriage seasonality and the industrious revolution: Southern Sweden, 1690–1895. Economic History Review, 65(3), 1123–1146.Google Scholar
  37. Ellison, P. T. (2003). Energetics and reproductive effort. American Journal of Human Biology, 15(3), 342–351.Google Scholar
  38. Ellison, P. T., & Lager, C. (1986). Moderate recreational running is associated with lowered salivary progesterone profiles in women. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 154(5), 1000–1003.Google Scholar
  39. Ellison, P. T., Valeggia, C., & Sherry, D. (2005). Human birth seasonality. In D. K. Brockman & C. P. van Schaik (Eds.), Seasonality in primates: Studies of living and extinct human and non-human primates (pp. 379–399). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Grace, K. (2017). Considering climate in studies of fertility and reproductive health in poor countries. Nature Climate Change, 7, 479–485.Google Scholar
  41. Grech, V., Savona-Ventura, C., Agius-Muscat, H., & Janulova, L. (2003). Seasonality of births is associated with seasonality of marriages in Malta. Journal of Biosocial Science, 35(1), 95–105.Google Scholar
  42. Gruppioni, G., Coppa, A., & Danubio, M. E. (2005). Subsistence patterns as regulators of vital events. The case study: Seasonality of marriages and conceptions in Historical Times in Central-Southern Apennines (Abruzzo Region). Human Evolution, 21(2), 181–191.Google Scholar
  43. Istat. (1940). Annuario statistico dell’agricoltura italiana 1936-1938, Rome, Italy.Google Scholar
  44. Istat. (1948). Annuario statistico dell’agricoltura italiana 1939–1942, Rome, Italy.Google Scholar
  45. Istat. (1986). Sommario Statistiche Storiche 1926-1985, Roma, Italia.Google Scholar
  46. Istat. (2011). Italia in 150 anni. Sommario di Statistiche storiche 1861–2010, Roma, Italia.Google Scholar
  47. James, W. H. (1971). Social class and season of birth. Journal of Biosocial Science, 3(3), 309–320.Google Scholar
  48. Jasienska, G., & Ellison, P. T. (1998). Physical work causes suppression of ovarian function in women. Proceedings Biological Sciences, 265(1408), 1847–1851.Google Scholar
  49. Jennings, J. A., & Gray, C. L. (2017). Climate and marriage in Netherlands, 1871–1937. Population and Environment, 30(3), 242–260.Google Scholar
  50. Kussmaul, A. (1985). Time and space, hoofs and grain: The seasonality of marriage in England. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 5(4), 755–779.Google Scholar
  51. Lam, D. A., & Miron, J. A. (1994). Global patterns of seasonal variations in human fertility. Annals New York Academy of Sciences, 709, 9–28.Google Scholar
  52. Lam, D. A., & Miron, J. A. (1996). The effect of temperature on human fertility. Demography, 33, 291–306.Google Scholar
  53. Lam, D. A., Miron, J. A., & Riley, A. (1994). Modeling seasonality in fecundability, conceptions, and births. Demography, 31, 321–346.Google Scholar
  54. Lentini, R. (2015). L’invasione silenziosa. Storia della fillossera nella Sicilia dell’800. Palermo: Torri del Vento.Google Scholar
  55. Lesthaeghe, R., & Lopez-Gay, A. (2013). Spatial continuities and discontinuities in two successive demographic transitions: Spain and Belgium, 1880–2010. Demographic Research, 28(4), 77–136.Google Scholar
  56. Lesthaeghe, R., & Surkyn, J. (1988). Cultural dynamics and economic theories of fertility change. Population and Development Review, 14(1), 1–45.Google Scholar
  57. Levine, R. J. (1994). Male factors contributing to the seasonality of human reproduction. Annals New Iork Academy of Sciences, 709, 29–45.Google Scholar
  58. Livi, L. (1929). Sulle false dichiarazioni della data di nascita per i nati alla fine dell’anno, e rettifica della distribuzione mensile delle nascite nel triennio 1923–1925. In Istat (Ed.), Annali di Statistica, Serie VI (Vol. III, pp. 41–109). Roma.Google Scholar
  59. Livi-Bacci, M. (1990). Italian fertility: An historical account. Journal of family history, 15(4), 385–408.Google Scholar
  60. Lucchetti, E., Manfredini, M., Boetsch, G., Bley, D., Aluja, P., Pena, J., et al. (1996). Changes in marriage seasonality among some european rural populations. International Journal of Anthropology, 11(2–4), 73–81.Google Scholar
  61. Maggiorino, A. (1883). Monografia agraria sul circondario di Susa. In Atti della giunta per l’inchiesta agraria e sulle condizioni della classe agricola. Monografie allegate alla relazione sulla VII Circoscrizione (Cuneo, Torino, Alessandria, Novara, Piacenza e circondari di Bobbio e Voghera) (Vol. 7(2), pp. 9–106). Rome: Forzani e C. Tipografi del Senato.Google Scholar
  62. Manfredini, M. (2009). Birth seasonality in present day Italy, 1993–2005. Human Ecology, 37, 227–234.Google Scholar
  63. Matsuda, S., & Kahyo, H. (1994). Geographical differences and time trends in the seasonality of birth in Japan. International Journal of Epidemiology, 23, 107–118.Google Scholar
  64. Matta, A., & Alma, A. (2010). Catastrofiche pandemie di parassiti delle piante. I Georgofili, 2009–V, 7–27.Google Scholar
  65. Menken, J. (1979). Seasonal migration and seasonal variation in fecundability: Effects on birth rates and birth intervals. Demography, 16(1), 103–119.Google Scholar
  66. Millman, S. R., & Potter, R. G. (1984). The fertility impact of spousal separation. Studies in Family Planning, 15(3), 121–126.Google Scholar
  67. Moroni, A., Adornato, A., Anelli, A., Anghinetti, W., Rossi, O., Siri, E., et al. (1973). Ricerche di ecologia umana nelle isole Eolie. Biogeographia The Journal of Integrative Biogeography, 3(1), 853–894.Google Scholar
  68. Muñoz-Tudurì, M., & Garcìa-Moro, C. (2008). Season of birth affects short and long-term survival. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 135(4), 462–468.Google Scholar
  69. Navarra, E. (1998). Demografia di un villaggio alpino della Carnia: nuzialità e natalità a Sauris tra Settecento e Ottocento. La Ricerca Folklorica, 38, 49–61.Google Scholar
  70. Newey, W. K., & West, K. D. (1994). Automatic lag selection in covariance matrix estimation. Review of Economic Studies, 61, 631–653.Google Scholar
  71. Papa, C. (1985). Dove sono molte braccia è molto pane. Perugia (Italy): Editoriale Umbra.Google Scholar
  72. Pascual, J., Dipierri, J. E., Alfaro, E., & Garcìa-Moro, C. (2002). Birth Seasonality in Jujeño (North-West Argentina) altitude populations. Journal of Biosocial Science, 34(2), 249–258.Google Scholar
  73. Philibert, A., Tourigny, C., Coulibaly, A., & Fournier, P. (2013). Birth seasonality as a response to a changing rural environment (Kayes region, Mali). Journal of Biosocial Science, 45, 547–565.Google Scholar
  74. Prentice, A. M., & Cole, T. J. (1994). Seasonal changes in growth and energy status in the third world. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 53(3), 509–519.Google Scholar
  75. Quaranta, L. (2011). Agency of change: Fertility and seasonal migration in a nineteenth century alpine community. European Journal of Population, 27(4), 457–485.Google Scholar
  76. Regneir-Loilier, A., & Divinagracia, E. (2010). Changes in the seasonality of births in France from 1975 to the Present. Population, 65(1), 145–185.Google Scholar
  77. Roenneberg, T., & Aschoff, J. (1990). Annual rhythm of human reproduction: II. Environmental correlations. Journal of Biological Rhythms, 5, 217–239.Google Scholar
  78. Ruiu, G., & Breschi, M. (2015). ‘For the times they are a changin’. The respect for religious precepts through the analysis of the seasonality of marriages. Italy, 1862–2012. Demographic Research, 33, 179–210.Google Scholar
  79. Ruiu, G., & Breschi, M. (2017). Seasonality of livebirths and climatic factors in Italian regions (1863–1933). Historical Life Course Studies, 4, 144–163.Google Scholar
  80. Ruiu, G., & Gonano, G. (2015). Seasonality of marriages in Italian regions: An analysis from the formation of the Italian Kingdom to the present. Rivista Italiana di Economia, Demografia e Statistica, LXIX(1), 135–142.Google Scholar
  81. Sanna, E., & Danubio, M. E. (2008). Seasonality of Marriage in Sardinian pastoral and agricultural communities in the nineteenth century. Journal of Biosocial Science, 40(4), 577–586.Google Scholar
  82. Seiver, D. A. (1985). Trend and variation in the seasonality of U.S. fertility. Demography, 22, 89–100.Google Scholar
  83. Seiver, D. A. (1989). Seasonality of fertility. Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 10(4), 245–257.Google Scholar
  84. Somogyi, S. (1965). Nuzialità. In Istat (ed), Sviluppo della Popolazione dal 1861 al 1961. Annali di Statistica, Serie VIII, (Vol. 17, pp. 321–398). RomaGoogle Scholar
  85. Suzuki, R., & Shimodaira, H. (2006). Pvclust: An R package for assessing the uncertainty in hierarchical clustering. Bioinformatics, 22(12), 1540–1542.Google Scholar
  86. Trovato, F., & Odynak, D. (1993). The seasonality of births in Canada and the provinces 1881–1989: Theory and analysis. Canadian Studies in Population, 20(1), 1–41.Google Scholar
  87. van Poppel, F. (1995). Seasonality of work, religion and popular customs: The seasonality of marriage in the nineteenth- and twentieth century Netherlands. Continuity and Change, 10(2), 215–256.Google Scholar
  88. Wehr, T. A. (2001). Photoperiodism in humans and other primates: Evidence and implications. Journal of Biological Rhythms, 16, 348–364.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics and BusinessUniversity of SassariSassariItaly

Personalised recommendations