What percentage of illegitimate children have their father's last name in the United States?

I really don’t care for the term “illegitimate” in regards to children, but it was quicker to write it that was.

Particularly circa 1998, what percentage births where parents were not married, but father on the birth certificate had their father’s last name rather than mother’s? In the United States.

It’s in regards to a piece of fiction. And I just wondered about the actual statistics. But I’m not able to find them with a quick Google search.

I’m not at all sure those statistics exist, especially circa 1998. I’ve never seen a birth certificate that specifically states the mother’s marital status (and I’ve seen a lot of birth certificates because of the jobs I’ve had) so you wouldn’t be able to gather that information directly from the birth certificates. During earlier time periods, someone might have been able to guess from where the long-form certificate was to be mailed -if it was addressed to the mother using her “maiden name” then the parents probably were not married. But that would have been less reliable once married women started keeping their own names. You could figure out that the mother was unmarried if the father’s information was blank - but the mother could have been unmarried even if the father’s information is listed and it could be blank even if the mother was married. The only way that the statistic would possibly exist is if someone was compiling the information as the birth certificate applications were coming in and I’m not sure why that would have been done.

It looks as if that statistic does not exist, but as a WAG I would think it’s a fairly small number. Most children whose parents are not married probably take the mother’s name, so if you said 5% or 10% I doubt anyone will challenge it.

My WAG would be the complete opposite at least in my experience. Just about all the unwed mothers I know of have given the father’s surname to the child. I am not sure why they do as they rarely wind up marrying the guy. I’m basing it on extended family, Church baptisms, community sports teams I’ve coached and / or my kids were on, kids classmates, people I work with.

Most unmarried parents I know live together, sharing a household like any married couple - they just don’t bother to formalize it. People generally don’t know they’re not married, nor do they care much if they do. The children either take the father’s name, of they hyphenate.

Hmmm. Church records/baptismal certificates? You’d have to do a lot of digging. Maybe there’s a religious organization that tracks/tracked out of wedlock births? You might find their numbers agenda-driven if they even exist.

ETA, and you’d have to hope they tracked the name thing too.

A church that makes it a point to track out-of-wedlock births is likely to have a lot of unmarried, pregnant women decide they’re no longer welcome there.

True, or perhaps the opposite–they’re very welcoming of unwed mothers. Either way you’d expect the numbers to be skewed.

The OP unknowingly points out why it is difficult if not impossible to answer the question. Slapping the stigma of illegitimacy on a child is taboo in modern society; so much so that we don’t collect the data in any meaningful form anymore.

In my state, if a married woman gives birth to a child, her husband is automatically listed as the father on the birth certificate. Even if husband hasn’t been in the country for the past year, he is legally the father until he goes to court to prove otherwise.

If an unmarried woman gives birth to the child, she has the option of leaving the father’s name blank, or putting any other name in that field that she desires. She can put Happy McFalkerstain in that field and nobody will question her about it. However, say she lies and says that a real person, her neighbor John Smith is the father. This ministerial act of putting John Smith’s name on the birth certificate creates no parental rights or duties in John Smith.

There is a separate action to establish paternity that must be done. So for good or ill, we have allowed the birth registries to become a farce in some cases so as not to stigmatize illegitimacy.

And why should we even have to record “illegitimacy” in a modern society?

Because many people still believe that marriage is an important prerequisite to procreation so that children are born into formed and stable households.

I thought that during the debate on same sex marriage, it was said that nobody disputed this proposition.

Then brand the parent. Not the child.

There is no such thing as an “illegitimate” person. That was a legal term that hasn’t been used in decades. And should not be used today.

There are children of unmarried parents.

The problem is in the definition. Whether the parents are formally married is less relevant today, but cohabitating couples still tend to have children. In my experience, if the couple is still together and stable, the children take the father’s surname. Real “illegitimate” children (again, horrible antique label) where the mother and father are not in a stable long-term relationship during the pregnancy (i.e. one night stand or he buggered off at the first news of pregnancy) I tend to see the child take the mother’s surname.

The flip side to this question is estimating the number of children born to married women who list the husband’s name on the birth certificate but who is not the actual father. A growing amount of DNA evidence shows this to be true. Therefore, by definition the child will not have the true father’s last name.

Well said! Three cheers for Annie-Xmas! :slight_smile:

With a big red “A”.

Really? The term “illegitimate” in this context has not been used in decades? I’ve never heard that it was improper to use the term, and it was a polite word that replaced bastard as that word had become a common insult.

I also have a number of single mom friends, and most of their kids have the last name of the father.

Of course along with co-habituating unmarried parents, and mothers who were never in a relationship with the father (by the time the child was born) there are the third category and probably most common, women who divorced/moved out from the father after the child was conceived or after the child was born and now single. In this case it is usually not so much the father not acknowledging the child but rather not living with the mother, and probably has no objection to claiming/acknowledging fatherhood at the birth. Often the mother will remarry and take the new husband’s name, further complicating things. In my limited experience, I cannot think of a situation other than accidental pregnancies outside of serious relationships where the child had the mother’s surname not the father’s. Indeed, I knew several families where the new husband adopted the (young) children from a long-gone father and changed the children’s surname to match his.

Again, as far as I know, almost every relationship current or previous where the couple were together when the child was born, the child taking the father’s surname was as a choice by the couple.

When I was working on a large company’s payroll in a fairly transient small town many many moons ago, the record was a family with five different surnames, between mother, father and assorted dependent children from current or previous relationships.