A visit by the Pope can renew sufficient religious observance among Italian women to withhold sex from their partners for more than a year afterwards, a new University of Sussex study shows.
Papal visits to Italian provinces lead to a subsequent decrease in abortions of up to 20% with its impact felt for up to 14 months after, new research by economists Dr Vikram Pathania and Dr Egidio Farina has revealed.
As the drop in abortions produced no significant increase in recorded births, researchers believe the most likely explanation is a reduced need for abortions as the Pope’s words inspire local women to heightened observation of Catholic doctrine and avoidance of non-procreational sexual intercourse.
Dr Farina, now a research fellow at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “The research finds a decrease in the number of abortions starting from the third month until the fourteenth month after the visit of a Pope.
“The decrease in abortions seems to be driven predominantly by a reduction in unintended pregnancies as women choose abstinence, increase their use of contraception or a combination of both, after a visit.
“While use of contraception is also contrary to Catholic teaching, it may be viewed by women as the lesser of two evils when compared to abortion.
“Our research shows the very real impact that religious values can have in shaping people’s most intimate socio-economic behaviour.”
The researchers investigated the links between regional abortion rates at the time of 129 official visits made to 85 Italian provinces by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI between 1979 and 2012, in a paper published in the Journal of Population Economics today.
It is thought to be the first study of its kind to measure the effect of heightened religious sentiment on the number of abortions or to use administrative data to precisely estimate the effect of the papal visits on the number of births.
The study found that the reduction in abortions more than doubled when the Pope explicitly mentioned or implicitly referenced abortion in his speeches, as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI did in around a quarter of visits during the 33 year period.
The researchers noted interestingly the Papal influence on sexual activity was considerably more pronounced than its influence on church attendance. Previous studies had shown that women show a significant increase in the frequency of church attendance following a Papal visit but only for three months after while there was no increased attendance for men.
Dr Pathania, a reader in economics at the University of Sussex Business School , said: “The data does clearly show a clear trend in a drop in abortions but no significant rise in births following a Papal visit. While we cannot be exactly certain as to what can be causing this, a reduction in the frequency of sex between couples seems to be the most logical conclusion to draw.
“We do find that women become more religiously observant after a Papal visit although of course, we can’t say for sure that it is women who trigger the behavioural change in couples. Despite extensive search we were unable to locate extant Italian household survey data that would allow us to measure how papal visits affect the frequency of sexual intercourse or usage of contraceptives that could have shone further light on this effect.”
To read the paper in full visit here.
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By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Tuesday, 7 January 2020