Illegitimacy and the constitution of family life
This thesis examines the constitution of family life following illegitimate birth for a sample of firstborn illegitimate children born in 1970, 1975 and 1978. The accounts given by their mothers of the organisation of their family lives, attitudes about family life and perceptions of the impact of childbearing are compared with those of a control group of legitimate childbearers matched by age, parity, and year of their eldest child's delivery. The study reveals that illegitimacy serves as an index of deprivation, anomalous kin relationships and experience of previous family disruption but is an ineffective discriminating factor on less easily quantified aspects of family life. In Chapter 1 it is argued that the legal concept of illegitimacy implies that the relationships between mother, father and illegitimate child are aberrant but because of the ambiguity and generality of the concept, it remains unclear whether illegitimacy does indicate a deviant form(s) of the family. Moreover, recent increases in the rate of illegitimacy concomitant with overall changes in the structure and durability of families suggest that differences between illegitimate and legitimate children may be negligible. The literature on illegitimacy is briefly summarised and it is claimed that the bulk of it is outdated and does not consider the family life of the illegitimate child. Consequently, a second body of literature, not ostensibly concerned with illegitimacy but dealing with variations of family life likely to apply to the family of the illegitimate child, for instance, cohabitation and single parenthood, is examined and reviewed. Chapter 2 provides the epidemiological background to the study. Changes in the incidence, demographic patterning, resolution and health correlates of illegitimate pregnancy and birth are reported using national data and data derived from a computerised system of hospital records in Aberdeen. An attempt to reconstruct the sequelae to illegitimate childbearing in terms of marriage and fertility by linking obstetric records and registration material is described. Chapter 3 outlines sampling, the pilot study, development of the research instrument and the interview setting. The shaping, or rather pruning, of the research project by ethical and practical constraints arising in the study of the family in general and illegitimacy specifically is discussed. In Chapter 4, analysis of the family composition and of the living conditions of the sample families is presented and differences between the families of illegitimate and legitimate children are documented. In contrast, in Chapter 5, dealing with relationships between family members, it is demonstrated that there are more similarities between the sample and control group than there are differences. In Chapter 6, the family life cycles of the sample families are described, focussing on changes in the family constellation. While the differences between the illegitimate and legitimate children with respect to anomalous family composition and deprivation are shown to enlarge when past experiences are considered, the data at the same time suggest that the groups converge over time and that a process of normalisation of family life typifies the family life cycle of the illegitimate childbearers. Chapter 7 outlines the attitudes held by respondents on single parenthood, cohabitation, stepparenthood, dependence on government benefits, full-time employment of the mother and social work assistance, i.e. those characteristics of family life distinguishing the family of an illegitimate child (in this and previous works). In Chapter 8, the accounts of respondents of the changes in their lives after childbearing - living conditions, relationships with others and identity - are described. In both chapters, the theme of diversity across the entire sample and a lack of difference between illegitimate and legitimate recurs. In Chapter 9, the findings are compressed using. deviance as a focal point. It is argued that because of the extent of overlap between the two groups of families on many variables and lack of evidence of stigmatisation and societal reaction to the illegitimate childbearer and her family, it is no longer reasonable to regard illegitimate childbearing as a form of deviance. Implications for further research and policy implications, in 'light of imminent changes in the law, are discussed.