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J Biosoc Sci. 1995 Oct;27(4):443-55.

Birth, marriage and death in illegitimacy: a study in northern Portugal.

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Department of Anthropology, University of Coimbra, Portugal.


In populations in which the frequency of illegitimacy is high, illegitimates and legitimates may be subjected to different demographic and social pressures, with social and genetic consequences. A rural population from north-east Portugal is studied and variables from birth, marriage and death records are compared according to the legitimacy of the individuals. The analysis shows important differential demographic patterns in infant and child mortality and in migration prior to and related to marriage, especially in women. Some changes over time and gender differences are also evident.


This analysis of data from 6 parish registers in Lombada, Portugal (14 small villages) during 1860-1989 revealed 10,170 births, of which 13.04% (1326 births) were illegitimate. Levels of illegitimacy were high at 15.63% prior to 1939. During 1970-79 illegitimacy rates declined to 2.46%. Sex ratios of legitimate and illegitimate births were found to be the same. A high proportion of illegitimate births were born during the summer in the earlier period (1860-1939) only. 8.2% of men and 7.3% of women who married were illegitimate. The lower percentage of illegitimates marrying may be due to outmigration due to lack of marriage partners or mortality. During 1860-1939 28.29% of legitimate married males and 17.04% of illegitimate married males were born in the area. 36.33% of legitimate married females and 19.96% of illegitimate married females were born in the same area. Death records were found to be incomplete for illegitimate births, which indicates a probability of outmigration among illegitimate births, particularly females. Among records with birth, death, and marriage data, 61.46% of legitimate and 51.09% for illegitimate men and 55.11% and 34.62% of women (respectively) married in the region. In this subsample women clearly migrated out of the region. Age at marriage is largely unaffected among legitimate and illegitimate persons during the early period. During the first period illegitimate infant mortality is double that of legitimates. Illegitimates are more likely to be found married after 50 years than legitimates. Mean age at death and longevity are much lower in illegitimates during the first period. The Lombada area is described as having high illegitimacy but lower illegitimacy over time, and Portugal in general has high illegitimacy rates.

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