UK BIRTH RATE AT 80 YEAR LOW
BIRTH rates have hit a historic low amid falling fertility rates, an ageing population and increasing numbers of women leaving it until later in life to have children.
There were just over 11 babies born for every 1,000 people in England and Wales last year – the lowest level since birth rates were first recorded 80 years ago.
In total 657,076 children were born – down 3.2 per cent on a year earlier and nearly 10 per cent on 2012.
The Office for National Statistics said falling fertility rates were mainly responsible for the fall, but said difficulties conceiving among couples who choose to delay having families was also a major factor.
It said ‘women are progressively delaying childbearing to older ages’ and are now most likely to have children in their 30s. This is because women are more likely to go to university and delay marriage while they pursue their careers.
The breakdown of birth rates in 2018 showed that the greatest decline was among married women. The number of births for every 1,000 married women under the age of 45 fell to 80.5, down 5.8 per cent on the year before.
There was also a fall in the share of births to mothers born outside Britain. Some 28.2 per cent of the children born in England and
wales were born to immigrant women, down from 28.4 per cent in 2017.
The decrease, the first in 28 years, may be linked to the 2016 Brexit referendum. net migration from EU countries – the figure by which immigration from Europe increases the population – has more than halved since 2016.
The news of record low birth rates comes in a week in which Prince Harry announced he and Meghan plan to have no more than two children in order to ease over-population and ‘leave something better behind for the next generation’.
it was a decision which met with huge public support – with a Yougov poll finding 53 per cent agreed with the stance – suggesting many families may be opting for the ‘environmentally friendly’ number.
Kathryn littleboy, of the onS, said: ‘our analysis 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.’
She added that the number of children
‘Wanting to have a longer career’ ‘Similar trend across the world’
an average woman can expect to have in her lifetime has also reached nearunprecedented lows.
‘The total fertility rate stood at 1.70 children per woman, lower than all years except 1977 and 1999 to 2002. There were 657,076 live births last year, the fewest since 2005 and a drop of almost ten per cent since 2012,’ Miss littleboy said.
last year’s birthrate compared with 679,106 in 2017 and 729,674 in 2012.
There were falls in birth rates for women in all age groups except those in their 40s – among whom rates, which have doubled in 20 years, stalled.
Among teenagers, 11.9 in every 1,000 had a baby, less than half the teen birth rate in 2009. The fall comes alongside declines in drinking, smoking and drugtaking among young people since social media started to become more widespread in the late 2000s.
The onS said women have been more likely to have babies in their early 30s than in their late 20s since 2004.
it listed reasons for postponing having a family as ‘greater participation in higher education’, ‘delaying marriage and partnership formation’, ‘wanting to have a longer working career before starting a family’ and ‘labour market uncertainty and the threat of unemployment’.
it added that there could be ‘lower levels of fertility or difficulties conceiving due to postponement in childbearing’.
Despite the fall in births among married women, the majority of births continue to be within marriage. The 48.4 per cent of babies born outside wedlock last year is short of the peak 50 per cent point.
Fertility rates – the number of children each woman can expect in her lifetime – hit a peak in 1947 and continued to run high until the end of the post-war baby boom in the 1960s, when the rate was close to three children for every woman.
However, birth rates declined amid the economic stagnation of the 1970s. The legalisation of abortion in 1969 also depressed birth rates.
After 2000 the rate climbed again, pushed up by the arrival of millions in Tony Blair’s immigration boom, so that in 2012 it stood at 1.97. The latest figures are 1.7.
Critics of the decline of the traditional family warned that low birthrates will threaten numbers in the workforce who will in future have to maintain Britain’s increasingly ageing population.
They pointed to long-standing policies followed by governments of all parties which have encouraged women to work rather than to have children. Kathy gyngell, co-editor of the Conservative woman website, said: ‘These figures appear to herald a long-term decline in numbers of babies.
‘This is a tribute to the power of feminism, which has persuaded politicians that the only value a woman has is in the labour force and that there is no value in marriage and the domestic sphere.
‘woman are now put off from having children by the tax system and by the constant pressure to stay at work. This is a social disaster.’
The onS said that fertility rates have been declining in Scotland and northern ireland as well as in England and wales.
its report added: ‘This pattern is not exclusive to the UK, as a similar declining trend can also be seen across other countries such as Australia and France over the past eight years.’
OH DEAR, I fear that Prince Harry may not approve of my revered mother-in-law, whose 97th birthday party I had the honour and joy to attend at her Oxfordshire home last weekend.
Come to think of it, he’s also likely to frown on most of the rest of her extended family, including me.
Such is the conclusion I draw from the Prince’s interview in next month’s Vogue, guest-edited by his Duchess.
In it, he implies (though to be fair, he doesn’t actually spell it out in so many words) that couples who have more than two children do a disservice to the planet and its future inhabitants.
I hate to land Mrs U’s mother in trouble with Their Royal Highnesses, but I have to report that as she steams through her 10th decade towards her centenary and beyond, she has no fewer than 33 direct descendants — five daughters, 15 grandchildren (including four Utley boys) and at the last count 13 great-grandchildren.
Mind you, having produced only five offspring herself, she’s a slacker by the standards of her own maternal grandparents. Though it’s hard to believe these days, her mother (my wife’s grandmother . . . do keep up!) was one of 21 siblings — an impressive number even in the Victorian and Edwardian eras of their birth, when enormous families were more common than today.
Certainly, it’s a widespread view that couples who increase demands on the world’s finite resources by having more than a couple of children endanger both the economy and the environment.
Indeed, experts have been predicting imminent catastrophe from excessive human breeding since Thomas Malthus’s famous Essay On The Principle Of Population, in which he warned that the Earth could sustain only limited numbers.
The more people there were, he said, the more the ‘lower classes’ would suffer, since population growth ‘tends . . . to prevent any great amelioration of their condition’. At the time, it sounded like common sense.
But when his essay was published in 1798, the world’s population stood at no more than a billion. It is now getting on for eight times larger. Yet thanks largely to the capitalist system, industrialisation and giant leaps forward in science and agriculture, poverty, hunger and disease are in retreat almost everywhere (with the notable exceptions of countries cursed by socialist dogma and war).
Paradoxically, population growth has turned out to be not merely a consequence of increasing wealth for the masses, but a cause of it too. But then of course it’s the first rule of economics that economists haven’t a clue what they are talking about. They never had, and probably never will.
No, it’s when average family sizes shrink that long-term troubles truly set in — as we’re witnessing here in Britain, where yesterday’s official figures show the birthrate has fallen to its lowest ever. Indeed, it’s down a dramatic 10 per cent since 2012, as women — whether by choice or necessity — delay childbirth to pursue careers.
Hence the alarming change in the ratio of young to old, with each person of working age having to support increasing numbers of economically inactive retirees.
Hence the worsening crisis in social care. Hence our reliance on mass immigration to boost the workforce, with all the social tensions this produces.
Hence, too, the agonising postponement of the state pension age, as the finishing tape is moved ever further back for those younger and less fortunate than me.
If only more parents went forth and multiplied like my venerable mother-inlaw and her five lovely daughters, many of these problems would disappear. Yet all over the developed world, family sizes are shrinking — as the UN found at the turn of the millennium, when it identified no fewer than 88 countries in which the population was either falling or about to decline.
In my parents’ day, governments understood the importance of renewing the population, with handsome tax-breaks on offer for dependent wives and children ( though they were nowhere near as generous as those then available in France, where the population had been decimated by World War I).
In Britain today, the lesson appears to have been forgotten, with women of childbearing age forced to work because of financial pressures, whether they like it or not. Those who do have babies face exorbitant child-care costs — and there’s little support on offer to stay-at-home mums.
Meanwhile, we witness the emotional tragedy of more than 500 abortions per day in England and Wales alone.
As for the impact of population growth on the environment, I grant you that’s a different matter. But it’s surely not so much the overall increase in human numbers that’s doing the damage. It’s more the way we’ve come to behave — burning dirty fuels, unnecessarily laying waste forests and flying hither and thither in jets and helicopters (no names, no packdrill, your Royal Highnesses). Is it over-optimistic to believe that the ingenuity of humankind will find cleaner, greener ways to sustain our species — just as we’ve solved so many apparently intractable problems in the past?
Whatever the truth, I can testify that in almost 30 years of writing about family matters, I’ve come in for a good deal of abuse for having fathered four children. As a (childless) woman at a dinner party once put it to me, when the boys were much younger: ‘Isn’t that bloody selfish of you? Don’t you think this island is quite crowded enough, without you adding to the population explosion?’
Well, I had to admit that there were indeed selfish pleasures to be had from parenthood. It was nice to be surrounded by offspring hard-wired to love me — and even to respect me, before the scales fell from their eyes at the onset of their teens.
But then I thought of the countless sacrifices of time and money we parents had to make for our young: the sleepless nights, the exhausting business of trying to keep the peace in a thousand fratricidal disputes, the weekends spent running an unpaid taxi service, ferrying the boys to schoolmates’ birthday parties, soccer pitches and swimming pools . . .
Much as I loved our sons, as I do to this day, I thought how much richer and freer Mrs U and I would have been if we’d decided against starting a family, or had stopped at one or two.
Indeed, I reckoned that having children was about the most selfless thing I’d done in an admittedly selfish life.
So I acquitted myself of my tormentor’s charge, asking: ‘Who do you think is going to look after you when you’re old and helpless? Who will till the fields to feed you, and work to earn the cash to keep your pension coming in?
‘ My four sons, and others of their generation, that’s who.’
So let’s hear it for large families and the huge contribution they make to the welfare of our society. Indeed, among my motherin-law’s children and grandchildren alone, there are doctors and teachers, an occupational therapist, a TV star, a rock concert impresario and a budding novelist — net contributors to the exchequer one and all.
And who knows, somewhere among her growing army of great-grandchildren, there may be the genius who will save the planet by cracking the problem of producing limitless supplies of cheap, clean and renewable energy, and irrigate the deserts and provide plenty for all.
I look forward keenly to my mother-inlaw’s hundredth, and the arrival of scores more of her descendants. She deserves a medal — as does every mother who has contributed as abundantly to the propagation of the human race.