UK BIRTH RATE AT 80 YEAR LOW

Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Steve Doughty So­cial Af­fairs Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

Alarm­ing

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).

Pres­sures

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.

Self­less

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.

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