In Brief

Why childbirth is at an all-time low in England and Wales

New data shows number of babies being born is at lowest level since Second World War

Baby's feet

The birth rate in England and Wales has fallen to a record low, with a near 10% drop in the number of babies being born since 2012, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Newly published figures show there were 657,076 live births in 2018, or 11.1 per 1,000 women - the lowest rate since records began in 1938.  Last year was the third in a row that the number of live births has dropped.

The “bombshell” data reveals that fertility rates decreased for women of all ages except those aged 40 and over, among whom they remained level, The Sun reports.

Why is the birth rate falling?

The ONS says the growing trend of postponing starting a family means that there are higher levels of infertility and conception problems.

The average age of mothers in the UK has risen from 26.7 years in 1978 to 30.6 in 2018. And women are now most likely to have their first child between the ages of 30 and 34, compared with 25 and 29 in 2004.

As The Times points out, women today have “improved access to contraception and are more likely to spend longer in education, delay marriage and have longer careers before starting a family”.

In 1964, before the contraceptive pill was approved for use, the average woman had 2.93 children; by last year, this figure had dropped to 1.7 - a decline which “shows that, given the opportunity to control the decision, many women would rather have fewer children”, says the newspaper.

In addition, a growing number of couples are putting off having children because of worries about the economy and the environment.

Housing issues are also a factor, says Sarah Coles, a personal finance analyst at fund manager Hargreaves Lansdown. “Young people are wrestling with higher property prices, so they’re still saving for a property at the age when their parents had moved into their own home and started a family,” she told The Times.

So will the UK’s population stop growing?

No, the UK population is expected to keep growing as people live for longer. In fact, the ONS forecasts that the population will pass 70 million by mid-2029 and reach 72.9 million by 2041 - increases of 6.1% and 10.4%, respectively, from 2017.

Could the birthrate decline affect the economy?

Possible, according to Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield, reports the Daily Mail’s online financial arm This is Money.

“It is likely to leave the UK and other countries like us with some interesting economic and social challenges in the years to come, because there will simply be too few young people of working age to support the economy and a disproportionate number of elderly people who require healthcare and pensions to be paid for,” Pacey warns.

He also suggests that “those in charge of healthcare budgets” should fund infertility treatments such as IVF for those who want children but cannot have them. Not to do so, Pacey adds, would be “foolish and short-sighted”.

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