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 ten 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 an average woman can expect to have in her lifetime has also reached near- unprecedented 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 drug-taking 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.’
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Steve Doughty