Academic journal article Population

Losses and Changes of Filiation among Children Born in France since the 1960s

Academic journal article Population

Losses and Changes of Filiation among Children Born in France since the 1960s

Article excerpt

Over the last five decades, in the majority of developed countries, the institution of traditional marriage has considerably weakened as the social and economic role of women has evolved. In the 1960s and 1970s, laws liberalizing divorce were passed in many countries (Commaille et al., 1983) while, in parallel, the number of union dissolutions increased at an unprecedented rate (Kiernan, 2002). During the same period, marriage ceased to be the exclusive manner of forming partnerships, and de facto unions became more frequent and more stable.

France was no exception to the trend. While one-tenth of marriages in the 1950s ended in divorce, the proportion has risen to four out of ten marriages celebrated in the early 1990s (Prioux, 2007). Meanwhile, consensual partnerships, previously viewed as trial periods preceding marriage, have shifted in nature to become in most cases an enduring lifestyle choice (Toulemon, 1997).

The dissolution of marital or non-marital unions often gives rise to reconstituted families. The number of children living with a parent - most often the mother - and a step-parent rose to 1,070,000 in 1999, from a figure of 935,000 ten years earlier (Barré, 2005).

The decline of marriage as an institution also led to a rise in the number of births outside marriage. Although there was a general increase in Western European countries (Duchêne, 2004), it was particularly marked in France, where the majority of births now take place outside marriage (52% in 2008). Concurrently, the proportion of children recognized by their father continues to rise, from 75% for children born in the 1960s to 95% of those born in the early 2000s (Munoz-Pérez and Prioux, 2005). The increase in births outside marriage has been accompanied, in France and elsewhere, by major reforms in legislation governing filiation.(1)

In this context - an increase in consensual unions and filiation outside marriage, instability of conjugal ties, large numbers of reconstituted families - how has filiation fared? Has it too become more tenuous than in the past?

Filiation refers here to the legal ties established between a child and his or her parents as provided by law. One could raise the objection that this definition limits the filial relationship to a single aspect that barely begins to cover its true nature. There is no doubt that the biological and/or socioaffective dimensions of filiation are important, and that the person considered the "true" parent may not be the one who is legally recognized as such (Lelièvre et al., 2008). Nonetheless, the legal definition of filiation encompasses the biological and/or socioaffective dimensions in the vast majority of cases, and, with the establishment of legal ties, society recognizes the inclusion of the child in the line of descent and in doing so, gives the child a name and an identity, as well as fundamental rights and responsibilities.

For these reasons, we can consider that changes in the nature of filiation as established by law have accompanied or even been revelatory of the radical changes in the filial relationship experienced by children and their parents. Given that the act of recording legal filiation (or its dissolution) is inherent to establishing it, data based on legal filiation are particularly reliable.

For our purposes, the loss of the child's original filiation will be taken as an indicator of the instability of the filial tie. By examining the frequency of such losses since the 1960s, we shall see that filiation has not been weakened, but on the contrary strengthened, both inside and outside marriage, and that this increased stability benefits both maternal and paternal filiation.

After listing the sources of the data used and the legal means of establishing filiation, we shall analyse the results of losses of paternal and/or maternal filiation. Acquisition of a second filiation after the loss of the original one will then be examined. At each stage, we will make a distinction between children born inside and outside marriage. …

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