Population  2009/4


2009/4 (Vol. 64)


doi 10.3917/popu.904.0687

publisher I.N.E.D

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Stillbirths in Nineteenth-Century Paris: Social, Legal and Medical Implications of a Statistical Category

byVincent Gourdon[*]By the same author
andCatherine Rollet[**]By the same author
Page 601-634



In the nineteenth century, the stillbirth rate in Paris was higher than in the rest of France, representing almost one birth in ten at the end of the century. These data, provided by the statistical institutions, reflect the difficulty of defining the category of stillbirths, located at the boundary between life and death, and subject to conflicting social viewpoints. After reviewing the legislation under the Ancien Régime and the Revolution, this article shows the confusion that prevailed after 1806 in the definitions used in the recording of stillbirths due to multiple pressures exerted by the different ministries, which in turn reflected the contradictory views held by the judicial system and by statisticians. For a long time, this confusion made it impossible to distinguish between “true stillbirths” and “false stillbirths”. Moreover, two factors increased the stillbirth rate in Paris: the early introduction of medical verification in the home of births and deaths, which improved the recording of stillbirths; and an obsessive fear of criminal abortions, which led to stricter monitoring of miscarriages, and to the recording of foetuses as stillbirths at ever earlier gestational ages.


  1. Statistically problematic trends in the stillbirth rate
  2. Changes to the legislative framework over the nineteenth century
    1. The legacy of the Ancien Régime
    2. Contradictory legislation: 1792-1806
    3. Towards the Decree of 4 July 1806
    4. Infants “presented lifeless”: application of the decree of July 1806
    5. Disputes between ministries
  3. Understanding the stillbirth statistics for Paris
    1. The percentage of “false stillbirths”
    2. Registration of stillbirths by verification in the home
    3. The registration of foetuses to combat “crime”
  4. Conclusion

To cite this article

Vincent Gourdon and Catherine Rollet "Les mort-nés à Paris au XIXe siècle : enjeux sociaux, juridiques et médicaux d'une catégorie statistique", Population 4/2009 (Vol. 64).
URL  www.cairn.info/revue-population-2009-4-page-601.htm
DOI  10.3917/popu.904.0687.

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