In 2017 fewer children were born in England and Wales, with the number of live births falling from approximately 696,000 in 2016 to 679,000 in 2017, according to the latest report from the Office for National Statistics, ONS.
The ONS figures show that the total fertility rate – a measure of how many children women can be expected to have [glossary]- has fallen from 1.94 in 2012 to an average of 1.76 children per woman. Even though it is higher than Europe’s average of 1.6, the trend for smaller families continues in the UK.
The latest UN World Population Prospects report shows that fertility in all European countries is below replacement level [glossary] of around 2.1 children per woman, on average. It is, however, likely to increase from 1.6 in 2010-2015 to 1.8 in 2040-2050.
Age at first birth increases (Older mothers)
There has also been a substantial reduction in the number of women who give birth under 30 years old, with the ONS ascribing the decline to factors such as ‘increased female participation in higher education and the labour force, the increasing importance of a career, the rising costs of childbearing, labour market uncertainty and housing factors being responsible’.
The only age group in which fertility rates are increasing is women aged 40 and above. Despite this, the average age at which women have their first baby is now 30.5, compared to 26.4 in 1975.
The proportion of children born to non-UK born mothers is 2.06 per woman. Foreign-born women make up an increasing share of the female population of childbearing age.
Teenagers are having fewer children
The most significant percentage decrease in fertility rates in 2017 was for women aged less than 20 years – declining by 7.3% in 2017.
Almost at the same time as the release of ONS report, another study has found that teenage pregnancies are now at their lowest level – down a remarkable 50% since 2007. In the latest report released by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, teenagers were found ‘to be more sensible, more focused on their education and future careers and wanted to avoid pregnancy.’ In fact, two-thirds of the teenagers (16-18) surveyed said they had never had sex while 24% never had drunk alcohol.
According to the ONS, in 1971 the under 20 age group had a high birth rate at 50.6 Per 1000 live births, which has fallen to 12.7 in 2017. In our Sustainable Population Policy, we call for actions to reduce family size further, including high quality sex and relationships education and properly funded family planning services.
Family planning services are currently under threat from central government cuts. Find out more about protecting contraceptive services.