1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Illegitimacy

ILLEGITIMACY (from “illegitimate,” Lat. illegitimus, not in accordance with law, hence born out of lawful wedlock), the state of being of illegitimate birth. The law dealing with the legitimation of children born out of wedlock will be found under Legitimacy and Legitimation. How far the prevalence of illegitimacy in any community can be taken as a guide to the morality of that community is a much disputed question. The phenomenon itself varies so much in different localities, even in localities where the same factors seem to prevail, that affirmative conclusions are for the most part impossible to draw. In the United Kingdom, where the figures differ considerably for the three countries—England, Scotland, Ireland—the reasons that might be assigned for the differences are negatived if applied on the same lines, as they might well be, to certain other countries. Then again, racial, climatic and social differences must be allowed for, and the influence of legislation is to be taken into account. The fact that in some countries marriage is forbidden until a man has completed his military service, in another, that consent of parents is requisite, in another, that “once a bastard always a bastard” is the rule, while in yet another that the merest of subsequent formalities will legitimize the offspring, must account in some degree for variations in figures.

Table I.Illegitimate Births per 1000 Births (excluding still-born).
  1876–1880. 1881–1885. 1886–1890. 1891–1895. 1896–1900. 1901–1905.
England and Wales 48 48 46 42 41 40
Scotland 85 83 81 74 68 64
Ireland 24 27 28 36 36 26
Denmark 101  100  95 94 96 101 
Norway 84 81 75 71 74 ..
Sweden 100  102  103  105  113  ..
Finland 73 70 65 65 66 ..
Russia 28 27 27 27 27 ..
Austria 138  145  147  146  141  ..
Hungary 73 79 82 85 90 94
Switzerland 47 48 47 46 45 ..
Germany 87 92 92 91 90 84
Netherlands 31 30 32 31 27 23
Belgium 74 82 87 88 80 68
France 72 78 83 87 88 88
Portugal .. .. 123  122  121  ..
Spain .. .. .. .. 49 44
Italy 72 76 74 69 62 56
New South Wales 42 44 49 60 69 70
Victoria 43 46 49 60 69 70
Queensland 39 41 44 48 59 65
South Australia .. 22 25 30 38 41
West Australia .. .. .. 48 51 42
Tasmania .. 44 38 46 57 ..
New Zealand 23 29 32 38 44 45

Table I. gives the number of illegitimate births per 1000 births in various countries of the world for quinquennial periods. It is to be noted that still-born births are excluded, as in the United Kingdom (contrary to the practice prevailing in most European countries) registration of such births is not compulsory. The United States is omitted, as there is no national system of registration of births.

This method of measuring illegitimacy by ascertaining the proportion of illegitimate births in every thousand births is a fairly accurate one, but there is another valuable one which is often applied, that of comparing the number of illegitimate births with each thousand unmarried females at the child-bearing age the “corrected” rate as opposed to the “crude,” as it is usually termed. This is given for certain countries in Table II.

Table II.Illegitimate Births to 1000 Unmarried and Widowed Females, aged 15-49 years.
Country. 1846–55. 1856–65. 1866–75. 1876–85. 1886–95. 1896–1905.
England and Wales 17 18 16 13 10  8
Scotland .. 22 23 20 17 13
Ireland .. ..  5  4  5  3
Denmark .. 28 27 26 24 23
Sweden 20 22 23 22 22 ..
Germany .. .. .. 28 27 26
Netherlands .. .. 10  9  9  6
Belgium 16 16 17 19 17 17
France 15 17 17 16 17 18
Italy .. .. .. 24 24 19

The generally accepted idea that the inhabitants of the warmer countries of the south of Europe are more ardent in temperament has at least no support as shown in the figures in Table I., where we find a higher rate of illegitimacy in Sweden and Denmark than in Spain or Italy. Religion, however, must be taken into account as having a strong influence in preventing unchastity, though it cannot be concluded that any particular creed is more powerful in this direction than another; for example, the figures for Austria and Ireland are very different. It cannot be said, either, that figures bear out the statement that where there is a high rate of illegitimacy there is little prostitution. It is more probable that in a country where the standard of living is low, and early marriages are the rule, the illegitimate birth-rate will be low. As regards England and Wales, the illegitimate birth-rate has been steadily declining for many years, not only in actual numbers, but also in proportion to the population.

Table III.England and Wales.
Year. Illegitimate
Births.
Proportion
to 1000 of
population.
Illegitimate
Births in
1000 Births.
1860 43,693 2.2 64
1865 46,585 2.2 62
1870 44,737 2.0 56
1875 40,813 1.7 48
1880 42,542 1.6 48
1885 42,793 1.6 48
1890 38,412 1.3 44
1895 38,836 1.3 42
1900 36,814 1.1 40
1905 37,515 1.1 40
1907 36,189 1.0 39

The corrected rate bears out the result shown in Table III as follows:

Table IV.England and Wales. Illegitimate Birth-rate calculated on
the Unmarried and Widowed Female Population, aged 15-45
years.
  Rate per 1000. Compared with
rate in 1876–1880,
taken as 100.
1876–1880 14.4 100.0 
1881–1885 13.5 93.8
1886–1890 11.8 81.9
1891–1895 10.1 70.1
1896–1900  9.2 63.9
1901–1905  8.4 58.3
1906  8.1 56.3
1907  7.8 54.2

Table V. gives the illegitimate births to 1000 births in England and Wales for the ten years 1897–1906 and for the year 1907. Table VI. gives the “corrected” rate for certain three-year periods. In connexion with these tables the following extract from the Registrar-General’s Report for 1907 (p. xxx.) is important.

Table V.England and Wales. Illegitimate Births to 1000 Births.
  Ten
years
1897–
1906.
1907.   Ten
years
1897–
1906.
1907.   Ten
years
1897–
1906.
1907.
Bedford 49 53 Leicestershire 40 39 Wilts 41 42
Berks 47 48 Lincolnshire 55 54 Worcester 37 38
Bucks 40 44 London 37 38 Yorks—    
Cambridge 48 53 Middlesex 30 28   E. Riding 52 49
Chester 41 39 Monmouth 29 27   N.  ” 53 45
Cornwall 50 48 Norfolk 62 65   W.  ” 43 41
Cumberland  61 58 Northampton 41 42      
Derby 41 41 Northumberland 39 38 Anglesey 81 75
Devon 39 39 Nottingham 50 49 Brecon 44 40
Dorset 40 37 Oxford 53 56 Cardigan 64 61
Durham 34 37 Rutland 46 70 Carmarthen 37 41
Essex 28 27 Shropshire 64 61 Carnarvon 60 72
Gloucester 36 36 Somerset 37 35 Denbigh 49 47
Hants 40 36 Stafford 40 38 Flint 42 42
Hereford 66 66 Suffolk 56 62 Glamorgan 26 26
Hertford 40 42 Surrey 38 37 Merioneth 71 77
Huntingdon 49 46 Sussex 52 52 Montgomery 76 73
Kent 40 41 Warwick 32 30 Pembroke 52 47
Lancashire 38 37 Westmorland 61 62 Radnor 66 67
Table VI.Annual Illegitimate Birth-rates in each Registration County of England and Wales, 1970–1907.
Registration
Counties.
Illegitimate Births to 1000 Unmarried and Widowed Females
aged 15–45 years.
Decrease per cent
in each County
 between the period 
1870–1872
and 1907.
Three-year Periods. Years.
1870–1872. 1880–1882. 1890–1892. 1900–1902. 1903–1905. 1906. 1907.
England and Wales  17.0 14.1 10.5 8.5 8.3 8.1 7.8 54.1
London 10.3 9.8 8.1 6.9 6.9 6.8 6.4 37.9
Bedford 21.1 18.0 11.2 8.4 8.0 8.2 8.7 58.8
Berks 16.8 13.4 10.3 8.7 8.6 8.1 8.4 50.0
Bucks 19.0 16.5 12.6 9.1 8.9 7.3 8.8 53.7
Cambridge 19.3 15.6 12.4 9.6 10.1 9.7 10.4 46.1
Chester 17.5 14.2 10.3 7.7 7.3 7.2 6.9 60.6
Cornwall 16.5 14.8 11.2 8.6 8.1 7.5 7.5 54.5
Cumberland 29.2 23.9 18.6 12.3 12.3 12.3 11.0 62.3
Derby 22.5 17.7 12.8 10.0 10.0 10.0 9.4 58.2
Devon 14.0 10.6 8.1 6.7 6.5 6.7 6.1 56.4
Dorset 14.2 13.1 9.6 7.2 7.2 8.1 6.4 54.9
Durham 24.0 18.0 13.8 11.1 11.1 10.8 11.6 51.7
Essex 16.2 12.7 9.1 7.3 7.1 6.7 6.4 60.5
Gloucester 12.9 11.6 8.2 6.3 6.1 6.8 5.8 55.0
Hants 13.6 11.8 8.5 7.3 7.1 6.9 6.4 52.9
Hereford 21.4 19.0 13.4 11.2 11.5 10.3 11.0 48.6
Hertford 18.4 15.3 10.4 7.0 7.2 6.6 7.5 59.2
Huntingdon 19.8 14.0 12.9 10.9 9.7 9.7 9.7 51.0
Kent 14.7 12.1 9.3 7.5 7.6 7.5 7.2 51.0
Lancashire 16.2 13.6 10.2 7.9 7.8 7.5 7.2 55.6
Leicestershire 19.9 16.1 11.4 8.6 7.9 7.5 7.3 63.3
Lincolnshire 22.3 18.5 14.2 12.2 12.1 12.7 11.9 46.6
Middlesex 9.4 9.4 6.5 5.9 6.0 6.1 5.7 39.4
Monmouth 18.6 15.9 11.3 10.2 9.1 9.6 9.3 50.0
Norfolk 27.3 22.6 16.7 13.4 13.4 12.5 12.8 53.1
Northampton 18.7 15.9 11.7 9.1 8.8 9.0 7.7 58.8
Northumberland 21.1 17.9 12.4 10.2 10.0 10.4 9.3 55.9
Nottingham 24.5 21.7 15.4 13.7 12.6 12.0 11.9 51.4
Oxford 19.0 15.4 10.4 9.0 9.1 9.3 9.2 51.6
Rutland 18.1 12.7 7.9 7.2 6.8 9.0 11.4 37.0
Salop 28.2 21.8 16.6 12.8 13.4 13.0 11.8 58.2
Somerset 13.3 11.3 7.4 6.0 6.0 5.4 5.5 58.6
Stafford 24.6 19.4 14.5 11.2 11.4 10.9 10.1 58.9
Suffolk 22.0 17.8 14.0 12.0 11.7 12.4 12.5 43.2
Surrey 9.5 8.5 6.6 5.9 5.7 5.9 5.7 40.0
Sussex 13.7 11.5 8.7 7.2 7.0 6.5 6.4 53.3
Warwick 14.9 13.2 9.7 7.6 7.5 6.6 6.8 54.4
Westmorland 21.9 17.9 13.1 8.6 9.1 8.5 7.8 64.4
Wilts 17.1 14.7 10.3 9.2 8.7 8.6 9.3 45.6
Worcester 16.3 13.7 9.2 7.2 6.8 6.6 6.6 59.5
Yorks—                
  E. Riding 23.0 18.2 14.3 12.2 11.7 12.2 10.6 53.9
  N. Riding 27.7 20.2 15.4 12.1 11.6 11.9 10.2 63.2
  W. Riding 20.4 16.1 11.4 9.4 9.2 8.8 8.1 60.3
Anglesey 19.7 16.7 15.7 16.1 14.9 13.3 12.9 34.5
Brecon 19.9 18.0 12.5 10.1 9.2 9.2 8.3 58.3
Cardigan 16.0 14.8 11.8 8.9 7.8 6.3 7.3 54.4
Carmarthen 18.2 13.9 9.4 7.7 8.2 7.7 8.9 51.1
Carnarvon 18.3 13.9 12.7 10.3 9.6 9.4 10.5 42.6
Denbigh 21.1 17.6 13.4 12.3 11.6 13.5 10.3 51.2
Flint 18.7 18.4 13.1 9.7 11.2 11.9 11.0 41.2
Glamorgan 17.7 13.5 10.3 8.5 9.1 8.9 8.4 52.5
Merioneth 24.4 19.5 16.4 13.5 13.4 13.2 12.7 48.0
Montgomery 29.5 24.3 16.7 13.1 13.4 12.6 11.7 60.3
Pembroke 21.6 15.9 12.4 8.9 10.2 10.7 8.4 61.1
Radnor 41.8 33.2 20.1 14.4 13.4 8.3 11.3 73.0
Table VII.Rate of Illegitimacy per 1000 Births.
Belfast 31   Liverpool 54
Birmingham  35   Manchester 28
Bradford 40   Middlesboro’  25
Bristol 31   Newcastle 36
Cork 18   Nottingham 60
Dublin 28   Portsmouth 33
Edinburgh 69   Salford 28
Glasgow 63   Sunderland 30
Leeds 54     
Table VIII.Scotland 1906.
Total
Births.
Legitimate. Illegitimate. Births per
1000 of pop.
Percentage of
Illegitimate to
Total Births.
132,005  122,699 9306 27.93 7.05
  Illegitimate
Births.
Percentage of
Illegitimate to
Total Births.
  Illegitimate
Births.
Percentage of
Illegitimate to
Total Births.
1860  9,736 9.22 1895 9,204 7.28
1865 11,262 9.96 1900 8,534 6.49
1870 11,108 9.63 1901 8,359 6.32
1875 10,786 8.73 1902 8,300 6.28
1880 10,589 8.50 1903 8,295 6.21
1885 10,680 8.47 1904 9,010 6.79
1890  9,241 7.60 1905 9,082 6.91
      1906 9,306 7.05
Table IX.Scotland 1906.
  Illegitimate
Births.
Illegitimate Births
per 1000 of Unmarried
Women and Widows
between 15 and 45.
No. Per 1000
of Pop.
Districts:      
  Principal Town 4318  7.14  
  Large Town 1029  5.58  
  Small Town 1724  6.23  
  Mainland-rural 2099  9.08  
  Insular-rural 136  5.88  
Shetland 31  5.30  7.0
Orkney 29  5.99  7.7
Caithness 84  9.96 19.4
Sutherland 28  6.81 10.1
Ross and Cromarty  74  4.40  6.9
Inverness 145  8.02 11.5
Nairn 18 10.29 13.2
Elgin (or Moray) 169 15.66 26.3
Banff 202 12.93 25.4
Aberdeen 1083 12.38 24.2
Kincardine 93  8.15 17.0
Forfar 676  9.43 14.2
Perth 215  7.93 10.8
Fife 308  4.56  9.7
Kinross 20  9.95 22.2
Clackmannan 53  6.69 10.9
Stirling 235  4.91 13.2
Dumbarton 163  4.14  9.7
Argyll 148 10.07 12.7
Bute 30  8.36  9.2
Renfrew 410  4.46  8.5
Ayr 499  6.23 14.3
Lanark 2872  6.28 15.9
Linlithgow 99  3.88 15.4
Edinburgh 930  7.23 11.0
Haddington 66  5.92 11.8
Berwick 60  9.63 12.7
Peebles 21  6.18  7.9
Selkirk 46  9.13 11.5
Roxburgh 83  8.67  9.8
Dumfries 218 12.51 19.9
Kirkcudbright 92 10.71 15.7
Wigtoun 106 12.79 22.5
  Scotland 9306  7.05 14.1

“It is difficult to explain the variations in the rates of illegitimacy in the several counties. It may be stated generally that the proportion of illegitimate children cannot alone serve as a standard of morality. Broadly speaking, however, the single and widowed women in London, in the counties south of the Thames, and in the south-western counties have comparatively few illegitimate children; on the other hand, the number of illegitimate children is comparatively high in Shropshire, in Herefordshire, in Staffordshire, in Nottinghamshire, in Cumberland, in North Wales, and also in nearly all the counties on the eastern seaboard, viz. Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, the East and North Ridings of Yorkshire, and Durham. In the Registrar-General’s Report for the year 1851 it was assumed that there was an indirect connexion between female illiteracy and illegitimacy. This may have been the case in the middle of the last century, but there is no conclusive evidence that such is the case at the present day. The proportions of illegitimacy and the proportions of married women who signed the marriage register by mark are relatively high in Staffordshire, in North Wales, in Durham and in the North Riding of Yorkshire; on the other hand, in Norfolk, in Suffolk and in Lincolnshire there is a comparatively high proportion of illegitimacy and a low proportion of illiteracy.”

Table X.Ireland. Proportion per cent of Illegitimate Births.
  1903. 1904. 1905. 1906. 1907.
Ireland 2.6 2.5 2.6 2.6 2.5
Leinster 2.6 2.6 2.7 2.7 2.7
Munster 2.3 2.2 2.3 2.2 2.1
Ulster 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.5 3.3
Connaught 0.5 0.7 0.7 0.7 0.6
Table XI.Ireland 1907.
County. No. of
Illegitimate
Births.
Per cent of
Total Births.
Leinster—    
  Carlow  27 3.56
  Dublin  34 1.15
  Dublin Co. Borough 314 3.29
  Kildare  22 1.46
  Kilkenny  54 3.29
  King’s 24 2.07
  Longford  11 1.23
  Louth  27 2.01
  Meath  30 2.27
  Queen’s 18 1.70
  Westmeath  19 1.57
  Wexford  89 4.11
  Wicklow  37 2.91
Munster—    
  Clare  23 1.04
  Cork Co. and Co. Borough 151 1.69
  Kerry  51 1.34
  Limerick Co. and Co. Borough 107 3.14
  Tipperary N.R.  19 1.49
  Tipperary S.R.  66 3.32
  Waterford Co. and Co. Borough   68 3.69
Ulster—    
  Antrim 230 5.08
  Armagh  99 3.49
  Belfast Co. Borough 355 3.13
  Cavan  27 1.54
  Donegal  54 1.36
  Fermanagh  41 3.15
  Londonderry Co. and Borough 145 4.35
  Monaghan  24 1.55
  Tyrone 116 3.80
Connaught—    
  Galway  32  .80
  Leitrim  10  .77
  Mayo  21  .45
  Roscommon  9  .50
  Sligo  9  .52
  Leinster  716 2.67
  Munster  495 2.11
  Ulster 1272 3.32
  Connaught  81  .60
2564

This latter conclusion may be carried further by saying that in those European countries where elementary education is most common, the rate of illegitimacy is high, and that it is low in the more illiterate parts, e.g. Ireland and Brittany.

It has been said that one of the contributory causes of illegitimacy is the contamination of great cities; statistics, however, disprove this, there being more illegitimacy in the rural districts. Table VII. gives the rate of illegitimacy in some of the principal towns of the United Kingdom.

That poverty is a determining factor in causing illegitimacy the following figures, giving the rate of illegitimacy in the poorest parts of London and in certain well-to-do parts, clearly disprove:—

Rate of Illegitimacy per 1000 Births.

London. 1901. 1903. 1905. 1907.
Stepney 12 9 18 10
Bethnal Green 13 15 13 11
Mile End Old Town 15 13 16 15
Whitechapel 22 24 19 19
St George’s, Hanover Sq. 40 45 45 45
Kensington 48 44 49 54
Fulham 43 42 45 40
Marylebone 182 186 198 182

Tables VIII. and IX. give the rate of illegitimacy for the various counties of Scotland, and Table X. the rate for Ireland.

Bibliography.—The Annual Reports of the Registrars-General for England, Scotland and Ireland; statistical returns of foreign countries; A. Leffingwell, Illegitimacy and the Influence of the Seasons upon Conduct (1892).  (T. A. I.)