Child Adoption in Western Europe, 1900–2015

  • Jean-François MignotEmail author
Part of the Studies in Economic History book series (SEH)


This chapter is a first step toward a comparative history of child adoption law and practices in Western Europe since child adoption became legal in Germany (1900), Sweden (1917), France (1923), England and Wales (1927), and Italy (1942). Relying mainly on long-time series from these five countries, I analyze the incidence and the developments of domestic adoptions of both unrelated and related children and more recent developments in intercountry adoption. In most Western European countries, child adoption incidence increased from the early twentieth century to approximately the 1970s, likely because of rising demand for child adoption. Child adoption incidence has decreased since the 1970s because of a fall in adoptable children from both domestic and foreign backgrounds. In addition, the people of Sweden and England and Wales have long adopted children much more frequently than those of Germany, let alone France and Italy. The history of child adoption in Western Europe thus reflects major demographic trends since 1900 as well as a North-South gradient in child adoption incidence.


Adoption Fostering Infecundity Abandonment Illegitimacy Stepfamily Family law Western Europe Twentieth century Twenty-first century 



For their precious help, I wish to thank Christina Benninghaus, Francesca Caroccia, E. Wayne Carp, Nina Dethloff, Vincent Gourdon, Joachim Haas, Juliette Halifax, Juho Härkönen, Tobias Hübinette, Jenny Keating, Silvia Leek, Philippa Levine, Jörg Lewe, Cecilia Lindgren, Li Ma, Agnès Martial, Christoph Neukirchen, David Reher, Paola Ronfani, Peter Selman, Julie Selwyn, June Thoburn, and the anonymous reviewers.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Gemass, CNRSParisFrance

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