Vulnerability Among Illegitimate Children in Nineteenth-Century Scotland

Alice Reid, Ros Davies, Eilidh Garrett, John Andrew Dale Blaikie

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It is well known that children born out of wedlock are a particularly vulnerable group, but the reasons why are less clear. This article uses longitudinal demographic records (created by linking the civil registers of births, marriages, and deaths to decennial censuses, 1861-1901) to investigate the extent of and reasons for the mortality penalty among illegitimate children born on the Scottish Isle of Skye. Relative to all children, illegitimates here were not especially vulnerable to death, an outcome that was probably due to an absence of social stigma set against the presence of supportive families able and willing to take in both unmarried daughters and their out-of-wedlock children. However, during periods of economic hardship, such as the 1880's, postneonatal mortality was over 80% higher for illegitimate infants than for legitimate infants. This may be because a lack of waged opportunities on the island for unmarried mothers meant that such women were more likely to leave their children with other relatives and seek work on the mainland. Despite the lack of disadvantage during good times, the fact that mortality rose sharply among illegitimate children during a crisis indicates that such children were still among the most marginal members of society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-113
Number of pages25
JournalAnnales de Demographie Historique
Issue number111
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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