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Statistics of illegitimate children in Latvia

The statistics of birth cases out of wedlock were gathered in the Baltic provinces of the Russia Empire. I do not have the data in full extent, only some figures. The percentage of illegitimate births for the Kurzeme [Kurland] province /SJGK/ was:

Year %
1859 4.86
1860 4.10
1861 3.95
1862 4.03

It is mentioned in the source that the births of the Old-believers are counted out from this statistic, however.

The statistics for total Vidzeme [Livland] province (including the Estonian part) in 1902, when 39, 348 children were born, and 2621 of them were illegitimate, give the rate 6.6%. In Riga for 1899 the figures were the following - 9482 born and 811 or 8.5% illegitimate. These data are from /KV, vol. 2/

I can also share with you the information taken from the book of U.Niedre Iršu dārzs. Rīga 1993 that in fact is Pakalns family history. The author has counted up in the appropriate church book that there were 7 illegitimate children among 111 newborn babies in Aumeisteri parish in 1891 (6.3%).

Earlier in the 19th century the figures were lower, but they were not zero. Really, a report of Trikāte [Trikaten] Pastor Johannes Pohrt for 1820 informs that in that year 235 children were christened in this parish and 3 of them (1.3%) were born illegitimate. I am going to publish the report in its full extent later.

This data give impression that extramarital sexual relations were not rare at all, taking into account the fact that a single sexual event can not guarantee the birth of a child.

In independent Latvia the birth statistics were gathered in full amount. The Yearbook of Statistics for 1923 contains data on the birth of illegitimate children. The table of their rate by religions in 1923 follows:



Total births

Illegitimate children

Percentage of illegitimate children

Month of maximum percentage of illegitimate births

Ev.-Lutheran 17 749 1 181 6.65 July  7.57
Catholics 13 260 552 4.16 October  5.30
Russsian-Orthodox 5 083 265 5.21 March  7.89
Old-believers 3 548 243 6.85 July  11.29
Jews 1 912 28 1.46 September  2.94
Others or Unknown 244 55 22.54 January  44.41


41 796 2 324 5.56 December 6.20


I also copied in this table the months of the maximum births of illegitimate children and the appropriate percentage, because the differences sometimes seem significant. May be it would be interesting to know that the month of maximum total birth rate was March (4 068 children were born) and of minimum birth rate - December (3 211 children).

The most surprising in this statistics is the great percentage of illegitimate children for Old-believers. May be the marriages in this Church were not always appropriately registered in civil institutions, but the children were to be registered there from 1922. On the other hand, there were some groups of the Old-believers who denied the marriage as itself from religious point of view, which increased the number of illegitimate births. These groups were active in Riga at the beginning of the 19th century, but I do not know what influence they had in the 1920s.

The similar data about the rate of illegitimate births for 1930 are presented in the next table:



Total births

Illegitimate children

Percentage of illegitimate children

Month of maximum percentage of illegitimate births

Ev.-Lutheran 16 428 1 383 8.42 January 10.40
Catholics 12 268 888 7.34 May 8.30
Russsian-Orthodox 3 863 313 8.10 May 9.36
Old-believers 3 393 363 10.70 June 13.94
Jews 1 508 41 2.72 August 5.36
Others or Unknown 375 119 31.73 November 46.67


37 835 3 107 8.21 May 9.11


This table shows increase in the percentage of the children born out of marriage that was especially great for Catholics and Old-believers.

For 1938 the general statistics of illegitimate births by religion was not published, only the statistics of illegitimate first births by religion. That year totally 36,386 babies were born and 3,450 (9,48%) of them were born out of wedlock. The percentage of illegitimate births for the first births was much greater as the following table demonstrates.



Religion First births
legitimate illegitimate Total % of illeg.
Lutherans 5,909 775 6,684 11.6
Catholics 3,011 691 3,702 18.7
Orthodox 1,075 277 1,352 20.5
Old-Believers 658 248 907 27.3
Moses faith 610 24 534 4.5
Others and unknown 16 2 18 11.1
11,279 2,017 13,296 15.2


This table shows that the rate of illegitimate births for the Old-Believers was still very high.

More general statistics are available in the book Latvija skaitļos 1938, though in this source no information about religions is published. The following table was published with share of illegitimate children in various regions of Latvia.


Rīga Vidzeme (Livland) Kurzeme (Kurland) Zemgale Latgale Total for
Urban areas Rural areas


13.14 7.14 9.26 7.10 4.30 7.86 10.95 6.13


12.78 8.51 9.52 10.79 5.14 8.21 12.10 6.38


11.47 10.98 11.06 12.60 5.63 9.17 11.69 8.24


11.43 11.84 10.13 13.45 5.99 9.52 11.42 8.79


10.33 11.85 11.13 13.29 5.90 9.55 10.86 9.02

The explanation of the region names can be found in the review of administrative history except Zemgale that corresponds to the Eastern part of Kurzeme province of the Russia Empire. The relatively low figures for Latgale region can be accounted for the influence of Catholic religion, the main religion there; here also lived relatively many Jews that lowered the figures, but, on the other hand, Old-believers, who mainly lived in Latgale, showed rather great percentage of illegitimate births. In any case, it is clear that on average almost each 10th child was born out of marriage at the end of the 1930s.

It is rather easy to understand why in 2 years from 1923 (see, the table above) till 1925 the percentage grew so dramatically - from 5.56% to 7.86%. Obviously, it was because during that period war refugees, war prisoners and Latvian riflemen came home from Soviet Russia and started appropriate activities.

I wonder why the figures grew so fast in Zemgale region and in 1937 reached the level of postwar Riga city. Could it be a result of the activities of many (20-30 thousand) seasonal agricultural workers from Latgale, Lithuania and Poland who worked there?




© Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002