Being a single mother was obviously a big economic disadvantage. And in the times when the Christian church morality dominated every day life, being a single mother was obviously a proof of a sin. But from practical point of view, a being a single mother wasn't very different from being a widow with a child, and that wasn't uncommon, considering high mortality rates in those times.

Since when did it become a cultural stigma, or more precisely, what was the severity of such a state in which periods?

(I'm focusing primarily on European history, but I'd be interested to know in other cultures/eras as well.)

  • 4
    Too broad. Please edit the question and add what century and what social class is of interest. Otherwise it would require a whole book. But the question is interesting.
    – kubanczyk
    Feb 7, 2016 at 18:53
  • It would help if you could narrow your question down a bit further to include a time period, social class, or culture. There is a big difference between a Queen loosing the King, or being the disgraced mistress to a wealthy businessman. Apr 22, 2016 at 3:58

2 Answers 2


The example that comes to mind is the class of sacred prostitutes of classical antiquity.

References of these temple prostitutes abound in ancient writings, but not much is said about their presumable consequential children. However, in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi legal protections were extended to the sacred prostitutes and their children which put them on a social par with married women: inheriting patriarchal property, handling money earned by their brothers, selling property, etc. (Read reference here.) This seems an uncharacteristically progressive stance given the time period.

Conversely, "common" prostitutes were usually associated with the lower classes, and did not enjoy the same status and protections. Any risk of pregnancy was met with primitive contraception, abortion, or infanticide. Whether this was solely due to social stigma or complicated by professional/ecomonic need is debatable.

(I know it's not Europe, but it's a salient example.)


Nazi Germany had a program called Lebensborn that encouraged unwed (German) mothers to produce "Aryan" children. These would be from "begetters" who were high-ranking members of the Nazi party, or members of the SS.

Because of the war, there was a shortage of "family" (read military) aged men at home, and a surplus of women of that age.

The times when "unwed motherhood" was not stigmatized were usually when it was "state-sanctioned," as above. Another example put forth by another poster was with "sacred prostitutes."

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