chapter  3
17 Pages

Illegitimate Infant and Maternal Mortality

WithAngela Joy Muir

This chapter examines the survival prospects and the ‘mortality penalty’ for illegitimate children and their mothers. The approach used in this chapter is not intended as a detailed demographic analysis of infant and maternal mortality in eighteenth-century Wales, but rather to analyse comparatively the frequency with which legitimate and illegitimate infants in certain parishes died. In so doing, this analysis further interrogates the significance of identified illegitimate paternity by comparing the mortality levels of illegitimate children whose fathers were identified at baptism with those whose fathers were not. Evidence from the parishes considered here indicates that illegitimate children did face an increased risk of dying in the first year of life, and surprisingly, in some areas, those whose fathers were identified faced an even greater risk. The focus then shifts to consider the perinatal survival of unmarried mothers. Childbirth at this time was a potentially precarious experience for all women, and, if illegitimate infant survival chances were poorer, then it follows that their mothers’ prospects could be negatively affected as well. However, the evidence explored here indicates that unmarried mothers did not face an increased risk of mortality, as long as they did not attempt to conceal their pregnancies and deliveries.