1Two types of adoption are current today in France, which differ from both a legal point of view and a social point of view. On the one hand, there has been, from the Family Code (Code de la famille) of 1939 and the Law of 11 July 1966 a so-called “full” or “plenary” (plénière) adoption, that is to say, an adoption whose main legal effect is to completely break the legal ties between the adoptee and his/her family of origin (substitutive filiation). In practice, this institution is an adoption of minors for primarily educational aims: typically, a childless couple adopts an orphaned or abandoned foreign or French child in order to raise him/her. On the other hand, from the Civil Code of 1804 (then the law of 11 July 1966) there has been a so-called “simple” adoption, whose main legal effect is to add a descendency tie to a prior legal relationship between the adoptee and his/her family of origin (additive filiation). In practice, this institution is an adoption of adults primarily for inheritance purposes: typically, these days, a childless step-parent adopts an adult stepchild, to which he or she is attached, in order to transmit their inheritance to him or her. Both types of adoption, however, have something in common: they create a legal relationship between an adopter and an adoptee without this filiation being based on the procreation of the adoptee by the adopting individual or couple.
2In this regard, social science research is faced with a paradox: simple adoption, less well known to the public and also to sociologists of the family, is now the most common form. More precisely, as in France the number of simple adoptions has exceeded that of full adoptions since the 1990s, historical (Gutton 1993; Neirinck 2000; Fine 2008; Louyot 2012), anthropological (Fine 1998; Fine and Neyrinck 2000), demographic (Halifax and Villeneuve-Gokalp 2004, 2005; Villeneuve-Gokalp 2007; Halifax and Labasque 2013) and sociological research (Fisher 2003) on adoption has been focused — with some exceptions (Martial 2003) — on full adoption. However, the recent development of simple adoption is the result of several current changes in the family, including the rise of step-families after divorce or separation and therefore deserves the full attention of sociologists and, more generally, of researchers engaged in kinship studies (Cicchelli-Pugeault and Cicchelli 1998; Segalen 2004; Déchaux 2006; Singly 2007).
3This article proposes a historical sociology of simple adoption since its introduction into French law in 1804. Its main objective is descriptive: given the limited information available to date on simple adoption, it is necessary before any attempts at explanation to firmly establish the facts. For this, we use a hitherto untapped source: the quantitative and comprehensive data of the Ministry of Justice on simple adoption since 1841. In addition to this descriptive contribution, the article also seeks some possible explanations for the development of simple adoption and what it reveals about socio-demographic and cultural changes in the family over the long term.
4After summarizing the history of adoption law in France, the article presents an analysis of adoption practices since the nineteenth century. It focuses first on the annual number of simple adoptions since 1841 and then on the social profile of simple adoptees and adopters since 1841. We also discuss (simple) adoption by couples of the same sex, which has been permitted since the law of 17 May 2013, although empirical data are still lacking on this subject (Box 1).
The French law of simple adoption since 1804
5Simple adoption was introduced into French law by the Civil Code of 1804 (Halpérin 2001; Carbonnier 2002). Since then, the main legal arrangements on simple adoption have evolved during three major periods: from the Civil Code of 1804 to the Law of 19 June 1923; from the 1923 Law to the Decree of 29 July 1939, also called the Family Code (Code de la famille); and since the Family Code of 1939.
From the Civil Code of 1804 to the 1923 Law: Adoption of adults for inheritance purposes
6From 1804 until 1923, only people over fifty years of age (men or women, single, married, widowed or divorced) without legitimate child, that is to say without a child born within marriage, were able to adopt. Only adults were adoptable, whether French or foreign. For the adoption to take place, the adopter must also have been at least fifteen years older than the adoptee, and given him/her during his minority at least six years of relief and continuity of care (or owed his life to an heroic act on the part of the adopted person). The adoption added the name of the adopter to that of the adoptee and conferred on the adoptee the same rights of succession over the estate of the adopter as those of a legitimate child, without however bringing the adoptee into the family of the adopter (the adoptee inherits only from the adopter, and neither from the ascendants nor collateral kin of the adopter). In addition, the adoption did not sever the bonds the adoptee had with his family of origin (inheritance rights, but also those of alimentary upkeep and marriage prohibitions): it created an additive filiation.
7Why was adoption restricted in this way? Firstly, only those without legitimate children could adopt, so that the legalization of adoption did not harm the succession of children of the marriage. Then, only those without legitimate children and more than fifty years old could adopt, that is to say people who probably would die childless, so that adoption did not lead young fecund couples to adopt rather than to procreate. Finally, only adults could be adopted, to prevent couples or women conceiving children in order to sell them for adoption, but also so that the parents of “natural” (also called “illegitimate”) children could not early-adopt the fruits of their dalliance.
8In this context, adoption was an institution aimed at inheritance of an estate: it allowed a person or a couple without (legitimate) children but who had contributed to raising a child (and built an emotional bond with him/her) to transmit his surname and especially his estate. More specifically, adoption enables the adopter to avoid the forfeiture of his estate to the state: the inheritance tax to be levied by a direct collateral heir—nephew or cousin—and a natural child until 1972, or a non-relative, was of the order of 60%, as against 5% to 40% for a simple adoptee or any other lineal heir. But adoption also prevented the dispersal of a person’s estate between several collaterals, and made it possible to pass it to a person of his/her choice, who would be thankful for it.
From the 1923 Law to the Family Code of 1939: Adoption with both inheritance and educational goals
9Simple adoption was reformed by the Law of 19 June 1923, making minors adoptable. Indeed, the First World War caused the death or disappearance of about 1.3 million soldiers, resulting in about 600,000 widows and 1.1 million war orphans (Faron 2001, pp. 309–22). In this context, the adoption of orphans could be one way of supporting the children of those who had given their lives for their country. From 1923 until 1939, only those over forty years of age without legitimate children could adopt, as was the case for infertile couples but also for many couples who had lost their only child during the war. Also, it was now possible for minors as well as adults to be adopted, whether of French or foreign birth. Adoption generally continued to have the same legal effects in that it still created an additive filiation.
10In this context, simple adoption remained an institution aimed at inheritance of an estate, but was also modified to become an educational and charitable institution. It was no longer only a matter of finding an heir for a family, but also a child to be raised. In addition, from the perspective of the state, it was to find a family for a child who had lost one, whether he was an orphan or had been given up by his parents to state foster care (Assistance Publique or Aide sociale à l’enfance). Specifically, among the orphaned and abandoned children the only adoptable ones were those designated as “wards of the state” (pupilles de l’État), that is to say minors without family (orphans, abandoned or removed from their parents) and admitted to the state foster care and therefore adoptable. While from the Ancien régime to the 1920s abandoned children were largely entrusted to rural households, from 1923 some children in the state foster care, including war orphans, were adopted by affluent couples in the Paris region (Jablonka 2006, pp. 94–106). In other words, we can see the change from a form of inheritance-focused adoption designed for the interests of the adopter, in order to transmit an estate, towards an adoption with primarily educational aims and designed, from 1923, to be in the interests of the adoptee—in order to give him/her loving parents.
From the Family Code of 1939 until the present: The re-emergence of adoption of adults for inheritance purposes
11The Family Code of 1939 created full (plénière) adoption, or “adoptive legitimation” as it was then called. Full adoption ensured that not only did the adopted minor enter the family of the adopter, but it also broke the bonds (including those of inheritance) between the adoptee and his family of origin, thus guaranteeing the exclusivity of the tie between the adoptive parents and their child, which alleviated some of the causes of the reluctance to adopt.
12Since 1939, then, two forms of adoption have co-existed. Full adoption completely severs the ties between the adoptee and his often unknown family of origin: the adoptee replaces the name and the inheritance he would have from his family of origin with those he takes from his adoptive family (substitutive filiation). Nowadays, the main reason to adopt in the full adoption form is, for a sterile adopter or for those for whom assisted reproductive technology has failed, to satisfy their desire to raise a child and to love and be loved by him/her. In contrast, simple adoption does not sever the ties, including those of inheritance, of the adoptee with his family of origin: the adoptee adds the name and the estate he derives from his family of origin to those that he derives from his adopter (additive filiation).
13In this context, infertile married couples who wish to adopt a child to raise and love as their own child tend to adopt in full adoption, so that simple adoption has progressively become mainly concerned with inheritance. Those now being adopted through simple adoption are minors or, in particular, adults who are not abandoned or orphaned, and who have no interest in seeing their original parental ties being severed. Nowadays, the main reason to adopt through simple adoption is thus for the step-parent to transmit their estate to his/her stepchildren, without depriving them of the legacy of their original parents.
14The reform of adoption law enacted on 11 July 1966 clarifies in particular the establishment of the state of abandonment and thus the adoptability of the child, which avoids certain conflicts between the birth family and the adoptive family. However, it does not fundamentally change the difference in use between simple and plenary adoptions.
Simple adoptions in France: quantitative sources
15Having outlined the legal framework of simple adoption, the history of the practices of this form of adoption can now be presented. In order to provide this, the long-term statistical series of the Ministry of Justice—which have not been explored to date although they have the advantage of being annual and comprehensive—are used together with recent survey data. A harmonized presentation of these data in order to trace two centuries of simple adoption in France is offered below.
Principal data source: Statistical Yearbook of the Ministry of Justice (from 1841 to 1980)
16As the adoption process involves legal procedures, the main source of statistics on simple adoption in France is the statistical yearbook published by the Ministry of Justice from the nineteenth century, under a series of titles: Compte général de l’administration de la Justice civile et commerciale en France et en Algérie [General Account of the administration of civil and commercial justice in France and Algeria] (1841–1932), Compte général de l’administration de la Justice civile et commerciale et de la Justice criminelle [General Account of the administration of civil and commercial justice and criminal justice] (1933–1960), Compte général de l’administration de la Justice criminelle et de la Justice civile et commerciale [General Account of the administration of criminal justice and commercial and civil justice] (1961–1976) and Annuaire statistique de la justice [Statistical yearbook of justice] (1981) (see the data in the Appendix). This source, which is referred to here as the Statistical Yearbook, provides annual aggregated and comprehensive data on the number of those adopted in France and certain characteristics of adopters and adoptees from 1841 (data collected over the period 1841–1880 however, are not annual, but five-year averages from the Statistical Yearbook, 1880, p. LXVI). However, this source no longer provides any information on adoption from the early 1980s. The Statistical Yearbook covers adoptions made in mainland France and, from the year 1968 (or from the year 1976, as the annuals are not always clear on this point), adoptions made in the whole of France, including the overseas territories. Specifically, the Statistical Yearbook identifies acts of adoption that are issued by the courts: while from 1841 until 1958, this was adoption acts issued by the (civil) trial courts, whether or not they were subsequently approved by judgments of the courts of appeal, from 1958 to 1966 these were acts of adoption issued by the trial court and also approved by courts of appeal. However, rejections of the approval by the courts of acts of adoption drawn up before a magistrate or a notary are sufficiently rare between 1958 and 1966 that this discontinuity is not an issue. From 1966, the Statistical Yearbook records acts of adoption issued by the courts, the approval procedure for adoption contracts having disappeared along with private acts of adoption themselves.
17Although the Statistical Yearbook is an extremely valuable source, it has several shortcomings, some of which have already been noticed (Marmier 1969). In addition to being silent on some issues and suffering from the fact that its content has been considerably depleted since the late 1970s, the Statistical Yearbook contains certain uncorrectable inconsistencies. The sum of simple adopters by sex does not equal the sum of adopters by occupation in the years 1895 (difference of 13), 1899 (difference of 1), and 1935 (difference of 39); the sum of the simple adoptees by sex does not equal the sum of simple adoptees by relationship with the adopter during 1935 (difference of 1), 1945 (difference of 44), 1961 (difference of 90), and 1962 (difference of 30); and the sum of the simple adoptees by sex (or relative of the adopter) does not equal the sum of adoptees according to whether or not they originate from the state foster care from 1968 to 1975 (maximum difference of 32). All told, these inconsistencies are comparatively few, and especially small scale: they are not likely to skew an analysis of simple adoption practices in the long term.
Additional sources: institutional sources and ad hoc surveys (since 1980)
18Several ad hoc surveys provide other useful data on simple adoption in France. A research centre of the Ministry of Justice conducted a survey on a sample of 470 simple adoption judgments in 1968–1970 (Marmier-Champenois 1978). The Ministry of Justice also investigated simple (and full) adoptions in 1992 (Belmokhtar 1996) and in 2007 (Belmokhtar 2009b), using samples of adoption judgments of the trial courts and samples of foreign judgment transcripts ordered by the prosecutor of Nantes. These surveys are also used here to extend and enrich the observations from the Statistical Yearbook, while taking care to extend the series of the Statistical Yearbook only when the subsequent data are strictly comparable. Unfortunately, no information is currently available about simple adoptions declared since 2007.
Number of simple adoptees, 1841–2007
19The number of simple adoptees and the number of simple adoptees per 100,000 of the population varied during three long periods. Firstly, until 1923, when only adults were legally adoptable, the number of simple adoptees remains very stable, around a hundred a year. Then, from 1923, when minors became adoptable, and until the mid-1970s, the number of simple adoptees crosses a threshold: it increases from about a hundred to about 1,000 to 2,500 per year. Over this period, the number of simple adoptees rises to 3,781 after the war, in 1947: many abandoned or orphaned children found during the conflict were later adopted. That said, the number of simple adoptees was not greatly increasing, especially because some of the minors adopted through full adoption were squeezed out of the “stock” of children adoptable by simple adoption. Finally, and since the mid 1970s, the boom in divorce has quadrupled the number of divorced people residing in France (it has risen from less than one million in 1975 to nearly four million in 2010 [INSEE 2014]), so the number of step-families after divorce or separation has increased (Burguière 1993; Sardon 2005; Barre 2005; Mignot 2008; Lapinte 2013). Consequently, the opportunities for step-parents to adopt their step-children are increasing, so much so that the number of simple adoptees has crossed a second threshold: it has gone up from about 1,500 to about 10,000 per year. The “silent revolution of step-families” (Déchaux 2009) is thus at the heart of the development of simple adoptions since the mid-1970s (Théry 2001).
Number of simple and full adoptions, 1841–2007
Number of simple and full adoptions, 1841–2007Field: Adoption judgments of the trial courts in mainland France and then (from 1968 or 1976) in the whole of France including overseas territories.
20Note that the number of simple adoptees by simple adopter seems to have been stable at about 1.05 to the mid-1970s (with a slight rise to 1.1 between 1910 and about 1930), before rising sharply since that time: in 2007, to more than 1.3 simple adoptees per adopter (9,412 adoptees for 7,092 adopters) (Belmokhtar 2009a). Indeed, in 2007, 76% of simple adopters adopted only one person, but 19% adopted two, and 5% adopted three or more (maximum six) (Belmokhtar 2009a). In these cases, it is most often the step-parent who simultaneously adopts all his stepchildren (Martial 1998).
21Overall, it appears that simple adoption is more common today than it has ever been. And assuming that, in the long run, most simple adoptees are adults adopted in order to provide them with an inheritance (a mainly succession-driven aim), while the full adoptees are minors adopted to be raised (a primarily educational aim), it appears that, apart from during the 1970s and 1980s, most adoptions in France are mainly succession-driven. This is a fact which has so far gone virtually unnoticed by specialist researchers on the family.
Profiles of simple adoptees, 1841–2007
Sex and age of adoptees
22From the Civil Code of 1804, simple adoptees can be both female and male persons. And from the 1923 Law, they can be not only adults but also minors. In this context, how have the sex and age of simple adoptees changed?
23The proportion of male adoptees has varied significantly since the early nineteenth century. Until 1913, the percentage of men adoptees varies around 49% (average annual percentage over the period 1841–1913). While one might have imagined that an inheritance-driven institution would be more likely to mainly adopt men, perhaps better able legally to lead or operate a heritage, and only likely to transmit their name to the later generation, such is not the case.
24Then from the post-great war period where the share of male adoptees drops to its minimum (31% in 1923) to the 1970s, the proportion of adoptees who are male gradually rises to nearly 50%. Insofar as simple adoptees are related to the adopter (niece or nephew, stepchild), the relative paucity of male adoptions could be explained by the fact that, in the case of the death of a mother, boys often stay with their father, while daughters are more often supported and subsequently adopted by an aunt. Where simple adoptees are abandoned minors or orphans from outside the family, and whose sex was chosen by the adopter, could the relative scarcity of postwar adoptions of males be explained by a preference on the part of the adopters for adoptees who would be less likely to be mobilised in the event of another conflict? This is what is suggested by some interviews conducted in the early 1970s about adoptions following the Second World War in 1950–1954 (Marmier-Champenois 1978, p. 157), but it is difficult to assess how these preferences might have worked. The relative scarcity of adoptions of males post-war could possibly be explained by the fact that boys are less often abandoned or given up for adoption than girls, especially in a post-war period when men are more rare and therefore more valuable than ever (in the fields, in the shop and at the factory, but also on the marriage market). More generally, could the sex of adoptees be explained by the fact that the girls might be considered more useful (as they say in south-west France, “one is better cared for by one’s family than by one’s daughter-in-law” [Fine 1998, p. 77])), or that adopted girls are considered to be more grateful than boys? Whatever the reasons, from 1919 to the 1970s, the majority of adoptees were female.
Proportion of simple adoptees (adults and minors) who are male, 1841–2007
Proportion of simple adoptees (adults and minors) who are male, 1841–2007Field: Adoption judgments of the trial courts in mainland France and then (from 1968 or 1976) in all of France including overseas territories
25Since the 1970s, moreover, the proportion of male adoptees has tended to fall again, reaching 44% in 2007. Indeed, stepfathers who represent today the majority of simple adopters, adopt their daughter-in-law more often than their son-in-law, perhaps because they have more often lived with their daughter-in-law (who stayed with her mother) than with their son-in-law (who sometimes stayed with his father).
26Unfortunately we do not know the proportion of simple adoptees who were minors from 1923. We only know that in 1968–1970, most simple adoptees were adults (Marmier-Champenois 1978), and that between 1992 and 2007 the proportion of adult simple adoptees remained stable around 85% (the average age of the simple adoptee also remained stable at 33 years) (Belmokhtar 1996; Belmokhtar 2009b).
Family relationships between adoptees and adoptive parents
27Since the Civil Code, simple adoption has in part been seen as a way of transmitting an estate while keeping it in the family. In this context, to what extent have the adoptees been members of the family of the adopter? And what was their relationship: parent and “natural” child, that is to say born out of wedlock; uncle or aunt and nephew or niece; step-parent and step-child (who are related, in that they are generally not allowed to marry each other); or other kin relationships?
28The data that provide information on the proportions of simple adoptees who were either related or not to the adopter, are not as good as they might be. Firstly, these data do not distinguish between adoptees unrelated to the adopter (“non-kin”) and adoptees related to the adopter but where the relationship is unknown (“nonspecified relationship”). Therefore, it is only possible to provide a minimum estimate of the proportion of simple adoptees who are related to the adopter, which calls for cautious comment. On the other hand, the low numbers of adoptions in the nineteenth century and the strong annual variations in the proportions of simple adoptees related to the adopter lead us to use five-year averages, not only for the period 1841–1880 (during which the data themselves were collected every five years) but also for the period 1881–1913.
29Until 1923, the proportion of simple adoptees related to the adopter (and whose relationship is recorded) tends to decrease from 60–5% in the mid-nineteenth century to 35% in 1923. While it is difficult to clarify who the adoptees are who become increasingly unrelated to the adopter until 1923, we can envisage two types being possible. Firstly, those adoptees unrelated to the adopter may be descendants of neighbours or friends, that the adopter has taken in during their childhood and then adopts in adulthood. On the other hand, as André Burguière (1999) has emphasized, those adoptees who are unrelated to the adopter may be abandoned children who had become wards of the state (pupilles de l’État), that the adopter had helped to benefit from “unofficial guardianship” during their childhood. Indeed, until 1923, unofficial guardianship allowed an adult over fifty years of age and without legitimate child to bring up a child without known parents or whose parents consented to this guardianship; in other words, unofficial guardianship may have become a first step toward adoption, before the future adoptee became an adult. That said, additional research is needed in order to know about these developments with more certainty. Since 1923, however, the proportion of simple adoptees who were related to their adopter (and whose relationship is recorded) increased significantly, reaching 71% in 1975 and 93% in 2007 (Belmokhtar 2009a).
30The family ties between the simple adoptee and the adopter can be of many types. In the nineteenth century, most simple adoptees related to the adopter were adopted natural children (that is to say, children from two unmarried or adulterous or incestuous parents). Adopting a natural child would then allow, until 1972 and even until today, some illegitimate children (Kimmel-Alcover 2000) to receive a legacy while remaining exempt from paying heavy inheritance taxes. However, from the very end of the nineteenth century, improvements in the legal status of natural children may have decreased the incentives that their parents had to adopt them, thus reducing the proportion of simple adoptees who were natural children.
Proportion of simple adoptees who are related to the adopter (and whose family relationship with the adopter is recorded), 1841–2007
Proportion of simple adoptees who are related to the adopter (and whose family relationship with the adopter is recorded), 1841–2007Field: Adoption judgments of the trial courts in mainland France and then (from 1968 or 1976) in all of France including overseas territories
Note: Annual data are transformed into five-year averages until 1913 inclusive.
31Two points need to be added on family ties between the simple adoptee and his adopter in the nineteenth century. Firstly, among the natural children who were the beneficiaries of simple adoption, the majority had been recognized by their adopter. This means that most of the natural children who were adopted had already, before their adoption, a filial tie with their prospective adopter. Indeed, the proportion of recognized natural children varies up to the Second World War at around 58%, then goes up from 33% in 1944 to 67% in 1976. On the other hand, whilst according to the Civil Code of 1804 simple adoption led the adoptee to add that of the adopter to his/her own name, it does not allow him/her to bear only the name of the adopter and to pass for a legitimate child… except when the adopted child is the recognized natural child of the adopter (or even, from the law of 13 February 1909, when the adoptee is the non-recognized natural child of the adopter). In this context, the adoption of a recognized natural child would have the added benefit of allowing the child to pass for legitimate (Dol 2013).
32Then, from the early twentieth century to the interwar period, most simple adoptees related to the adopter were nephews or nieces. Again, to adopt a nephew or niece meant exemption from the payment of heavy inheritance taxes in the collateral line, while retaining the estate in the family. Thus, in the rural southwest of the first half of the twentieth century, adoptees were mostly nephews or nieces of the adopter, even though they were sometimes stepchildren or other relatives (often orphans) and more rarely wards of the state (Fine 1998). In addition, the First World War probably led some people to adopt the children of their brother who had died in the war.
33Finally, since the postwar period, a growing proportion of simple adoptees related to the adopter are step-children, that is to say the children (of a first bed) of the wife or the husband of the adopter (the husband/wife of the adopter may be alive or dead, and the other parent of the adoptee may be dead or not involved with the child or consenting to the adoption). Whilst in 1976, 66% of simple adoptees related to the adopter were stepchildren, by 2007 it had become 92% of them. Nowadays, simple adoption is typically for the step-parent to adopt the stepchild he helped to raise and to which he is attached, in order to transmit goods (often the home where the step-family has lived) while reducing the cost of his inheritance taxes (Martial 2003, pp. 221–41). Thus, the recent boom in simple adoption is one of the few phenomena which contradicts the general trend that the “logic of blood relationship is more important than a purely emotional logic where family ties would take precedence as the result of a shared daily life” (Jonas et al. 2007). Simple adoption is probably one of the “purest” cases of the creation of kinship ties following the mutual attachment produced by daily co-residence.
34In contrast to full adoption, which comes before education begins and before attachment begins to operate, mainly for educational reasons even though they may also be for inheritance reasons, simple adoption intervenes once education has started or even finished, and once attachment has occurred, and mainly for inheritance purposes. In simple adoption, the adopter adopts the adoptee, who he already knows and loves since he has already helped to raise him/her in order to transmit his estate to him/her in the future.
Breakdown of simple adoptees related to the adopter according to their kin relationship, 1841–2007
Breakdown of simple adoptees related to the adopter according to their kin relationship, 1841–2007Field: Adoption orders granted by the trial courts in mainland France.
35The question remains, however, to what extent adoption is the appropriate institution to institutionalize the relationship between step-parent and step-child: adoption, even in its simple form, tends to create a biological sense of rivalry between the step-father and father, as adding the name of the step-father to that of the biological father may seem, for the latter, to be a denial of paternity (Martial 2000). The legal relationship between step-parent and step-child to which the French legislature seems to have been heading since the 1990s would be “a step-parent status” or various legal arrangements, which would be significantly less of a commitment than adoption (Damon 2015). These provisions, which could take the form of a delegation of parental authority to a third party or a sharing of parental authority between parent and step-parent, would be intended to facilitate the lives of the step-families by allowing the step-parent to carry out the usual activities of daily life of the child (immunization, justification of school absence, registration for school meals at the canteen, participating in a school trip, etc.), with the consent of his/her parents but without specific permission. This would grant recognition to the task of the stepparent in civil law, in addition to their role as it is already recognized in tax and social law. This could also help establish the authority of the step-parent. However, the provisions must avoid excluding the non-custodial parent from the child’s education, and particularly avoid the creation of rivalries between the stepfather and the father from which the child could suffer. Moreover, it remains to be decided to what extent it is appropriate or not to facilitate the transmission of the estate of the stepparent to his/her step-child.
36In their report on filiation, Irène Théry and Anne-Marie Leroyer suggest several modifications to family law so as to provide a role for the relationship between the step-parent and step-child. “It is in this spirit of respect for the special place in the family of the step-parents of today, who do not wish to be either substitutes for or rivals of the parents, that we propose a set of measures designed to support this role by opportunities that can be offered but never imposed, since they will be able to use them if they are likely to promote the child’s own interests: hence a ‘mandate of daily education’, a ‘re-structured families certificate’, and the ability to bequeath assets to a step-child under the same tax rules as for their own child. In addition, a range of other proposals are aimed at helping with difficult situations, such as separation, the serious illness or death of a spouse, with in particular the concern that half- or step-siblings are not separated from each other if the interests of the child so require.” (Théry and Leroyer 2014)
Adoptees from state foster care
37Since the law of 1923 authorising the adoption of minors, what proportion of adoptees have been wards of the state (pupilles de l’État)?
38The proportion of simple adoptees who are wards of the state has almost never exceeded 25% since 1950. And since 1962, the proportion of simple adoptees who are wards of the state has never stopped falling, reaching less than 1% in 2007. Indeed, the state foster care service in France (Aide sociale à l’enfance) has in fact always preferred to give wards of the state to those couples that wished to adopt a minor using the strongest legal tie available: full adoption.
Proportion of simple adoptees who are wards of the state (pupilles de l’État), 1957–2007
Proportion of simple adoptees who are wards of the state (pupilles de l’État), 1957–2007Field: Adoption judgments of the trial courts in mainland France and then (from 1968 or 1976) in all of France including overseas territories.
39Although the history of simple adoptees in France includes some constants— for example, virtually all adoptees have always been French rather than foreign (Statistical Yearbook; Belmokhtar 1996 2009b)—it also reveals various developments. From 1804 to 1923, when simple adoption was only applicable to adults and was clearly aimed at the inheritance of an estate (which in no way prevents the adoptee and the adopter being previously attached to each other), simple adoptees, for women as much as for men, were adults who were related in most cases—natural children of the adopter—and then, from 1900, mostly unrelated including friends, distant kin and wards of the state, although the proportion of nieces and nephews is substantial. Then, from the first major reform of adoption in 1923 until the mid 1970s, when simple adoption affected both adults as well as minors and was aimed at both inheritance and education, the simple adoptees were 50% to 70% female, and of all ages, of which one-third and later two-thirds were related to the adopter, especially nieces and nephews, and then increasingly stepchildren, but also wards of the state in up to a quarter of all cases. Finally, since the mid-1970s, while stepfamilies have been multiplying and simple adoption has become largely concerned with inheritance, the slight majority of simple adoptees have been female, mostly adult (average age around 30) of which two-thirds are related—especially as stepchildren—to the adopter, even though initially a small proportion of these were wards of the state. To better understand these developments, it is now appropriate to analyse the evolution of the profile of adopters.
Profile of simple adopters, 1841–2007
Marital status, sex and age of adopters
40Since the Civil Code, adoption can create a tie not only between the adoptee and an individual adopter (whether that individual is single—with or without a partner— married, widowed or divorced) but also between the adoptee and an adopting married couple (and including couples where the spouses are of the same sex since the law of 17 May 2013). In addition, the adopter acting alone can be a woman as well as man. The Civil Code, however, has always refused adoption to unmarried couples, in that both members of a couple living together cannot simultaneously adopt the same person. In this context, have adopters been married couples to a greater extent than single people? And are they more likely to be men or women?
41The proportion of individual simple adopters, rather than married couples, has varied since the nineteenth century. Until 1923, approximately 75% of simple adopters were individuals. From 1923, when simple adopters were first allowed to adopt children, and until 1948, more and more adopters have been married couples, so that in the 1940s most simple adopters were married couples. But since 1948, more and more simple adopters have been individuals, to the point where today nearly 100% of simple adopters are individuals. Unfortunately, the marital status (single, married, widowed or divorced) of simple adopters that adopt as individuals is unknown. Among the decreasing numbers of couples who have become simple adopters since the 1960s, the average ages of the spouses at the date of adoption have remained stable at around 60 years. More specifically, the average age of husbands at adoption has increased from 58 in 1968–1970 to 60 in 1992 and 63 in 2007; and the average age of wives at adoption has increased from 56 in 1968–1970 to 58 in 1992 and 59 in 2007 (Marmier-Champenois 1978; Belmokhtar 2009a).
Proportion of simple adopters who are single individuals, 1841–2007
Proportion of single simple adopters who are male, 1841–2007
Proportion of single simple adopters who are male, 1841–2007Field: Adoption judgments of the trial courts in mainland France and then (from 1968–1976) in all of France including overseas territories
42The proportion of simple adopters acting alone who are men, rather than women, has also changed since the nineteenth century. Until 1923, only about half of adopters were men and half women (minimum 40% of men in 1890, up to a maximum of 66% in 1921). From about 1923 to 1955, when adopters were first allowed to adopt children, fewer and fewer simple adopters were men, so much so that by 1955, 63% of simple adopters were women. And since 1955, more and more simple adopters have been men: today, 75% of simple adoptive parents are men. Indeed, much as most children of divorced couples live with their mother (rather than their father), simple adoptees similarly also live with their stepfather (rather than a stepmother), so that the relationship between stepfather and stepchild tends to be stronger than the link between stepmother and stepchild; this is why most of the stepchild adoptions by step-parents are performed by a stepfather. Among the increasingly numerous simple adopters who are individuals, the average age at adoption has remained at around 60 years since the 1960s: for men (and respectively women), it has gone from about 60 years (60 years for women too) in 1968–1970 (Marmier-Champenois 1978) to 57 years (66 years) in 1992 and 57 years again (63 years) in 2007 (Belmokhtar 2009a). Hence where the simple adoption of a stepchild occurs when the step-father is already relatively old, sometimes this may be partly because the stepfather prefers to adopt after the biological father has died, so as not to hurt or compete with him (Martial 2003, pp. 221–41). As filiation is experienced as an exclusive relationship (“I already have a father”), it is not uncommon that the adoptee feels some discomfort at this type of adoption.
Box 1.—Simple adoption by couples of the same sex
In full adoption—typically one outside the family or even international—, couples of the same sex can now apply for approval of adoption and adopt a ward of the state or a minor of foreign origin (Schneider and Vecho 2009). The question is to what extent the French or foreign administrative or judicial authorities will effectively entrust adoptable minors to married homosexual couples, and at this time the empirical data to answer this question is lacking.
In simple adoption—typically an intra-family adoption—the law of 17 May 2013 will remove the last legal obstacles to the adoption of a step-child by a homosexual step-parent. This simple adoption by a step- parent can occur in two main cases in which the adoptee can be an adult or a minor: when a child born of a heterosexual union is or was (at least partly) brought up by one of his relatives who has changed his life to be with a same-sex partner; or when a child adopted by a homosexual single individual has been or is raised by this individual and his/her same-sex partner. Whatever the case is, since simple adoption is most often performed by a single individual (a step-parent), there is probably little demand for simple adoptions by married couples composed of two women or two men.
Social position and occupation of adopters
43Since the Civil Code, simple adoption has included an inheritance dimension. Does this mean that most simple adopters are of high social position? Available data indicate that until about 1923, more than half of all simple adopters were “property-owners, rentiers, professionals”, even though their proportion of all adopters tended to decline in favour of “shopkeepers, industrialists,” and especially “other” occupations. If these changes are difficult to interpret—are they due to the decline in the propensity of rentiers to adopt, to the reduction in size of the rentier population in French society after the First World War (Piketty 2014, Figure 8.2) or to possible changes in the nomenclature of social positions in the Ministry of Justice? -, it is clear that, until 1923 at least, adopters are disproportionately found among the wealthiest classes. Besides, why adopt an adult, if not to transmit a legacy to him/her? This over-representation of the wealthiest classes amongst the simple adopters in fact continued in the interwar period and at least until the 1960s: even in 1968– 1970, adopters were disproportionately members of the upper classes (professionals and managers, but also artisans and shop-keepers) and had a higher than average income (Marmier-Champenois 1978). However, it is not easy to quantify the degree of social selectivity of simple adoption in the long term.
Occupation of simple adopters, 1841–1935
Occupation of simple adopters, 1841–1935Field: Adoption judgments of the trial courts in mainland France.
Note: Non-responses (“occupation not declared”), not shown above, account for less than 20% of responses in 1841–1884 and 1930–1934, but over 20% in 1885–1929 (with a peak at 53 % in 1919).
44The long history of the social profile of simple adopters in France reveals certain constants—they seem to have always been a part of the relatively wealthy classes— but also various developments, whether due to legislative changes or other factors. From 1804 until 1923, when simple adoption was clearly concerned with inheritance of an estate, three-quarters of adopters were single individuals of whom half were men and half were women, rather than couples. Then, from 1923 until the mid 1970s, when simple adoption was for both inheritance and educational purposes, the majority of simple adopters were single individuals rather than couples (except during the 1940s), with more single women than single men, and—at least at the end of period—those aged around sixty, a suitable age to decide on the transmission of an inheritance. Finally, since the mid-1970s, while simple adoption has returned to being largely concerned with inheritance, the growing majority of simple adopters have been (and today are almost exclusively) single individuals rather than couples, and three-quarters of them are now men rather than women, with a mean age of sixty years.
45* * *
46In conclusion, a synthetic view of the history of simple adoption in France since the Civil Code is presented. This makes it possible to observe some major changes in the French family in the long run.
47From 1804 until 1923, simple adoption was a very rare practice (about 100 adoptees per year), which was aimed at enabling adopters of fifty years or more and without (legitimate) children to transmit their estate to an adult adoptee that they had helped to raise when he was still a minor—and which, if he was not adopted, could not succeed them or would have to pay ruinous inheritance duties. In this context, three quarters of adopters were single individuals rather than couples, about half and half men and women, and single or widowed rather than married or divorced. Adoptees, also equally shared between women and men, were adults and mostly related—as natural children—to the adopter and then, from 1900, mostly unrelated, including wider kin and wards of the state, although the proportions of nieces and nephews among them was not negligible. Typically, a mature person adopted their natural child or another close-kin who he helped to raise when he or she was still a minor, so as to transmit his estate to them.
48The first major reform of adoption in 1923—in a context where there were many children orphaned by war—was to suddenly multiply the number of adoptions, a process which continued until the mid-1970s, during which simple adoption grew from about 1,000 to about 2,500 adoptees per annum. Originally restricted to adopters over the age of forty years, — later thirty years — and without (legitimate) children, simple adoption was not only concerned with inheritance but also for educational purposes (especially in terms of war orphans from 1923–1939), then returned to being mainly concerned with inheritance (from 1939 when full adoption became better able than simple adoption to ensure the educational function). In this context, the adopters were, for the most part, individuals rather than couples (except for during the 1940s), mostly single women rather than single men, and at least by the end of the period, older people with an average age of sixty. The adoptees were 50% to 70% female and of all ages, went from one-third and then two-thirds of them being related to the adopter (especially nieces and nephews, and more and more step-children), but also almost a quarter of them being wards of the state, the other adoptees being neighbours, friends or their children. Typically, a single or widowed and childless aunt or stepmother adopted a niece or step-daughter (or another person) that she helped to bring up while the child was still a (motherless) minor in order to transmit her estate to this adopted daughter.
49Since the mid 1970s, simple adoption, that had been by then available to adopters over thirty, then twenty-eight years old, with children but still widely aimed at inheritance, went through a very strong process of renovation: there are currently about 10,000 simple adoptees per annum, because of the increase in step-families after divorce or separation, which increases the number of step-parents who are able to adopt their stepchildren. In this context, the adopters are in the majority and a growing proportion, single individuals rather than couples, and men rather than women, with a mean age of sixty years. Adoptees, of whom a small majority are female and for the most part adults (an average of thirty years old) were two-thirds, and now almost all of them related—especially as step-children—to the adopter, even though initially only a small proportion of them were also wards of the state. Typically, the stepfather adopts the stepchild he helped to raise when it was still a minor, to transmit his estate to it.
50Since the nineteenth century, the adopter and the simple adoptee knew or most often still know the biological parents of the adoptee—they are even, in most cases, related parties. But the adopter, who helped raise the adoptee and established with him/her ties of emotional attachment (even though this is not a parental tie) adopts in order to transmit their estate to him/her, rather than to see it taken by the state or dispersed among several heirs. Simple adoption thus creates a bond of filiation whose particularity is that it is both a kind of affinity (no one adopts their stepchild if they are not attached to him/her) and has an inheritance purpose (no one adopts his stepchild if he has no estate to transmit to him/her). Accepting, with Florence Weber (2005), that the parental relationship has biological (kin), legal (lineage) and everyday (household) dimensions, simple adoption is the institution that turns a tie based on daily solidarity and affection into a legal filiation with the aim of transmitting not so much love (that’s already “done”) as an estate. In its current practice, simple adoption is also an institution that turns a relationship of mutual affection between stepparent and stepchild into a parental tie (between adopter and adoptee).
51The history of simple adoption also allows us to trace the evolution, over the long term, of the types of child that were legally strangers to the family but who were despite that raised within it. From this point of view, it offers a striking insight into certain changes in the family. From 1804 to the 1890s, most simple adoptees were natural children and from adulterous relationships, because they were, in law, strangers to the family. Then, from the 1890s to 1970s, most simple adoptees are nieces and nephews and wards of the state. And since the 1970s, most simple adoptees have been stepchildren.
52Finally, the history of simple adoption can reveal more about full adoption. Simple adoption creates an additive filiation for a minor or, more often, an adult, who is part of the family of the adopter even before the adoption(national intrafamilial adoptee) and often has already been raised by him/her. Thus, the simple adopter adopts the adoptee that he already knows and loves since he has already helped raise him/her, to transmit his estate to him/her in the future. In contrast, full adoption creates a replacement filiation for a minor who may be born outside France (international adoptee) or within France (national extra-familial adoptee) but is not in any way a part, before the adoption, of the family of the adopter and therefore has not been raised by him/her. Thus, the full adopter adopts the adoptee, that he does not know and love as yet because he has not contributed to his upbringing, to love him/her as his child (and incidentally to transmit to him/her his inheritance) in the future. While simple adoption begins after he has started or even completed education, and once the commitment has been made, and mainly for inheritance reasons, full adoption occurs before education begins and before attachment starts to operate, mainly for educational reasons even though they may also be concerned with inheritance.