Conceived in Sin

Out-of-Wedlock Fertility and Bridal Pregnancies in the Antwerp District, Belgium, c. 1820-1920


  • Sophie Vries Radboud University
  • Paul Puschmann Radboud University Nijmegen



illegitimacy, out of wedlock fertility, bridal pregancies, Antwerp


This article explores the causes of the rise in extra-marital fertility in the Antwerp district between 1820 and 1920. The Antwerp COR*-database is used to compare the reproductive life courses and characteristics of unmarried mothers, women who experienced bridal pregnancies, as well as women who conceived exclusively within marriage. The authors conclude that illegitimacy was mainly a phenomenon among young urban working class women, and that it was predominantly a consequence of vulnerability. The rise of illegitimacy should be viewed against Antwerp’s transition from a regional textile centre into a major port city, which increased migration and negatively influenced women’s employment opportunities. The effects of illegitimacy were not as disastrous as the literature suggests, however, given the fact that a high percentage of the affected women eventually married.   


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Author Biographies

Sophie Vries, Radboud University

Sophie Vries (1998) is a second year student of the Research Master Historical, Literary and Cultural Studies at Radboud University. Sophie’s research interests lie in the fields of historical demography and family history, and more specifically in partner selection and family formation. Recently, she did an internship at the Centre for Demographic Studies of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Paul Puschmann, Radboud University Nijmegen

Paul Puschmann (1984) is an assistant professor of Economic, Social and Demographic History at Radboud University. He is especially interested in long-term trends in partner choice, marriage and fertility, as well as in migration and social inclusion. Paul is scientific coordinator of HiDo, the international scientific network of Historical Demography (Research Foundation Flanders), research programme director of the Life Courses, Family and Labour network of the N.W. Posthumus Institute and co-editor-in-chief of Historical Life Course Studies.




How to Cite

Vries, S., & Puschmann, P. (2023). Conceived in Sin: Out-of-Wedlock Fertility and Bridal Pregnancies in the Antwerp District, Belgium, c. 1820-1920. TSEG - The Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History, 20(2).



Research Article