UK birth rate in England and Wales hits an all time low, here's all the reasons why

Why is the UK birth rate continuing to fall? [Photo: Getty]
Why is the UK birth rate continuing to fall? [Photo: Getty]

Birth rates in England and Wales have fallen to an all time low, new research has revealed.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) it is the third year in a row the number of live births have dropped, with levels not being this low since 2005.

There were 657,076 live births in 2018, a decrease of 3.2 per cent since 2017 and 9.9 per cent down since 2012.

The birth rate - measured as a proportion of the total population - has hit a record low, decreasing from 11.6 to 11.1 live births per 1,000 people - the lowest since records began in 1938.

Commenting on the new stats Kathryn Littleboy of the ONS's Vital Statistics Output Branch said: "Our analysis of births in England and Wales in 2018 paints a picture of decreases and some record lows. The birth rate was the lowest ever recorded, when births are measured as a proportion of the total population.

"The total fertility rate stood at 1.7 children per woman, lower than all years except 1977 and 1999 to 2002.

"The proportion of live births to non-UK mothers fell for the first time since 1990. The stillbirth rate reached the lowest level recorded for the second year running.

"There were 657,076 live births last year, the fewest since 2005 and a drop of almost 10% since 2012."

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Why is the birth rate falling?

The ONS attributed falling fertility rates as the main reason for the fall, but the figures could also have been exaggerated by an ageing population, with a larger proportion of older people compared with those able to bear children.

But could there be some other factors at play?

Environmental concerns

Earlier this week the Duke of Sussex revealed he and his wife Meghan will have a maximum of two children for environmental reasons.

And the new research suggests that some people in the UK could be feeling the same way, putting environmental concerns above family size.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet CEO, told Telegraph that an increasing number of their users have been voicing concerns about the future of the planet.

"Like Harry, some Mumsnet users have made a conscious choice to only have two children (or some say one or even none) in a bid to conserve resources,” she said.

"But others make the point that making other changes like reducing waste as much as possible or flying less can have an impact too and family size isn't the only issue.

"The consensus seems to be that every family has different priorities and you can't go wrong by doing as much as possible to make the world a better place for future generations."

It seems it is something of a trend for parents to be considering the environmental impact when it comes to their family size.

Earlier this month a newlywed couple revealed they are willing to give up on their dream of having a family to help save the planet.

The couple are part of a growing BirthStrike movement of people who have decided not to have children due to climate change.

READ MORE: The rise of the 50-plus motherhood club

People are choosing to have families later in life [Photo: Getty]
People are choosing to have families later in life [Photo: Getty]

Having children later

Another contributing factor to the drop in birth rate could be attributed to the fact that for various reasons women are starting families later in life, which means they are more likely to struggle with fertility and will potentially have a smaller family as a result.

Last year data published by the Office for National Statistics showed the number of births to 50-plus women has quadrupled over the last two decades, up from 55 in 2001 to 238 in 2016.

During the same period there were 1,859 births in the UK to women over 50, and 153 to women over 55.

The number of women having children in their 40s has also risen three fold from 4.9 live births per 1,000 in 1981 to 14.7 births per thousand today.

What’s more, ‘older mothers’, who doctors describe as women aged 35 and over, now make up a fifth of all births in Britain.

Financial fears

It’s likely that financial worries are also putting people off having big families. A Canadian study by BDO Canada revealed recently that one in five millennials are actively delaying having children because they feel they can’t afford a family, and it is likely their British counterparts feel the same.

Those contemplating having children or more children are doing so at a time of soaring house prices, economic uncertainty over Brexit and what the ONS has described as “uncertainty in the labour market” as a hidden force behind falling fertility rates.

With all that at play it is no wonder young couples last year were more reluctant to start a family.


Sadly as many couples discover making the decision to have a family might not be as straight forward as they hope.

So even if some do want to have one or more babies, it might not be possible.

Recent stats reveal that 3.5 million people are affected by infertility, with around one in six couples struggling to conceive.

Women are at a higher risk of infertility the older they are when they decide to have children but sperm counts among men in western nations have also halved over the past 40 years and are dropping by 1.4 per cent per year.

So choice in deciding to have a family or a bigger family might not come into it.

All things considered it seems we’re unlikely to see a drastic u-turn in the UK birth rate any time soon.