Population and Environment

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 525–540

On the Decline of Marriage in Rural Ireland 1851–1911: The Role of Ecological Constraints and/or Developing Philopatry

  • J. P. Kent


The proportion of people who never married and the age at first marriage increased in rural Ireland after the famine (1845–1847). In 1851, 11% of the population were never married at 45–54 years and this percentage increased steadily over time to 34% for men and 25% for women in 1936. The period from 1851 to 1911 was marked by economic progress, and despite some bad years, production, incomes and standards of living increased steadily. Ownership of land, passing from landlord to tennant, thus fixed the population to specific geographic locations and made the rural population increasingly philopatric. The Ecological Constraints Hypotheses (E.C.H.). has been used to explain the low marriage rate. It asserts that delayed dispersal and reproduction are caused by constraints such as a lack of access to resources such as land or mates. However in rural Ireland, wealthy heads of households were more likely to be celibate than occupiers of small holdings. The low nuptiality that developed after the famine appeared first in the more prosperous parts of Ireland and was accompanied by a substantial rise in living standards. The increasingly secure tie after the famine between the rural population and its geographic location reflected a new ecological situation which facilitated a change in reproductive strategy that was characterised by delayed marriage and an increase in celibacy. This strategy is adaptive in a stable ecology without major threats to survival. The data are consistent with evidence from animals and human populations showing associations in a stable ecology between long life expectancy, low population turnover and low fecundity, yet a rate of reproduction that is sufficient to maintain the population in its environment.

celibacy cooperative breeding dispersal ecological constraints Irish historical demography philopatry 


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. P. Kent
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.University CollegeDublinIreland
  2. 2.Ballyrichard House, CoWicklowIreland

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