Throughout history, unmarried women who gave birth to illegitimate children were shunned or scorned by society. While drastic changes regarding society’s view of unmarried mothers have occurred within the last few decades, there is still a social stigma surrounding unwed mothers.
Regardless of the fact that it has been looked down on, unmarried women have been having illegitimate children throughout history. Roughly 3 percent of unmarried women gave birth to illegitimate children in the 1700s. In Iceland in the mid-1800s, 14 percent of children were born to unmarried mothers. In Europe, about 7 percent of births were to unmarried mothers. Legitimacy rates of children increased following the previous rise of illegitimate children.
Historically, the pregnancy-legitimacy rate was said to decrease during the mid 1700s to the mid 1800s because of increased sexual activity. The rise of the legitimacy rate that followed was attributed to an increase in birth control use. Unmarried women who were having sexual intercourse had a way to avoid pregnancy, although the birth control did not always work. The social shame would often cause the unmarried mothers to give their children up for adoption.
Giving up a child for adoption was often preferable to raising the child in poverty. Since the process of an abortion could easily kill a woman, options were limited if one got pregnant. If the unmarried mother had a married aunt, cousin or sister, then it was common for the married relative to have taken on the responsibility of raising the child so that others would not know that the child lacked legitimacy.
Depending on the area, the unmarried woman may have had the chance to give her child legitimacy by marrying the father of the baby within a certain amount of time.
Unmarried mothers have been ridiculed by society through the years. Children who did not possess legitimacy were not given the same rights as legitimate children. By the late 20th Century, former state laws that did not allow any illegitimate children to inherit property were thrown out.
The prejudice against illegitimate children was determined to be unconstitutional and a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution due to the lack of equal protection granted to illegitimate children.testing is the only way to overturn cases of paternity fraud.