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This study examines the socioeconomic and familial background of Irish Catholic priests born between 1867 and 1911. Previous research has hypothesized that lack of marriage opportunities may influence adoption of celibacy as part of a religious institution. The present study traced data from Irish seminary registries for 46 Catholic priests born in County Limerick, Ireland, using 1901 Irish Census returns and Land Valuation records. Priests were more likely to originate from landholding backgrounds, and with landholdings greater in size and wealth than the local average. Priests were found to originate from families with more sons than the national average, but with similar numbers of daughters. These findings are discussed in relation to competition for resources and lineage survival strategies.

Original publication




Journal article


Human Nature

Publication Date





393 - 404