Birth of children outside marriage
Children born out of wedlock
In spite of greater information on sexual matters and greater availability of contraceptives, and the relaxation of norms on sexuality and marriage in many societies, this is, in the same societies, paralleled by a growing incidence of illegitimate births. Also, children born out of wedlock are less frequently than previously abandoned to charitable or public institutions for adoption by foster parents. Single women and unmarried couples belonging to the middle classes of affluent societies, are increasingly content to have children, but unwanted 'illegitimate' births are still mainly found among the poorer social groups.
Illegitimate children are children born out of wedlock in infringement of a society's regulations of procreation. They may be the result of poverty, inadequate education, family breakdown, cohabitation, the non-validity of divorce, inadequate contraception, prostitution, promiscuity, slavery or war. Definition of illegitimacy depends on the law. For example, children of a polygamous marriage will be legitimate in a society where polygamy is legal; but they will be illegitimate if monogamy is the law.
Statistical research now clearly confirms common sense that children of unmarried parents do very much worse by every indicator. They suffer in their health and in their education, and are also more likely to become involved in criminal activity.
The notion or illegitimacy itself is rapidly losing its content, as legislation follows changes in attitudes and secures equal rights to all children born in or out of wedlock, and to their parents. The differences in legal, social and psychological terms, between marriage and free union, legitimate and illegitimate birth, are fading. The formation of the family is more and more a private event. The social stigma attached to mothers of illegitimate children, and to the children themselves, has practically disappeared in a number of industrialized societies.