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Why has the fertility rate risen over the last decade in England and Wales?

The fertility rate peaked in 2010 with the highest total fertility rate since 1973

The total fertility rate (TFR) in England and Wales saw a steady decline during the 1990s, to a low of 1.63 in 2001 and then gradually increased between 2001 and 2008. From 2008 the TFR has remained relatively stable, fluctuating between 1.90 and 1.94 children per woman and peaking in 2010.  

The TFR is the average number of live children that a group of women would have if they experienced the age-specific fertility rates of the calendar year in question throughout their childbearing lives. The TFR provides an up-to-date measure of the current intensity of childbearing.

Figure 1: Total Fertility Rate, England and Wales, 1938–2011

Figure 1: Total Fertility Rate, England and Wales, 1938–2011
Source: Office for National Statistics

Notes:

  1. Rates for 2002-2010 have been calculated using revised mid-year population estimates which take account of the 2011 Census. Figures may therefore differ from those previously published.

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The TFR is influenced by changes in the timing of childbearing within women’s lives as well as any changes in final family size. For example, if women start to postpone having children, this will bring down the TFR during that period, but will not necessarily mean that the women in question will have fewer children in total in their lifetime.

There is no single explanation underlying the rise in fertility in England and Wales. Possible causes may include:

  • more women currently in their twenties having children

  • more women at older ages (born in the 1960s and 1970s) are having children that had previously postponed having them

  • increases in the numbers of foreign born-women who tend to have higher fertility than UK-born women

  • government policy and the economic climate indirectly influencing individuals' decisions around childbearing

Changes in the timing of childbearing

Notable changes in age-specific fertility rates have taken place over the last two decades. The overall fall in fertility in the 1990s was due to declining fertility among women in their twenties. In contrast, the overall rise since 2001 was driven by a faster increase in fertility rates for women in their thirties and forties (continuing the long-term trend that started in the late 1970s) and increasing fertility among women in their 20s.

Figure 2: Age-specific fertility rate, England and Wales, 1991–2011

Figure 2: Age-specific fertility rate, England and Wales, 1991–2011
Source: Office for National Statistics

Notes:

  1. Rates for 2002-2010 have been calculated using revised mid-year population estimates which take account of the 2011 Census. Figures may therefore differ from those previously published.

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Increasing numbers of foreign-born women with above average fertility

Changes in the TFR are driven mainly by women born in the UK as they make up the majority of the population of childbearing age. However, non-UK born women, who tend to have higher fertility than UK-born women, made up an increasing share of the population, which also acted to push the overall TFR upwards between 2001 and 2011. The percentage of births to foreign born-mothers has increased from 12% in 1991 and 16% in 2001 to 25% in 2011. In 2011, the TFR for non-UK born women was estimated to be 2.291   children per woman, compared to 1.901 for women born in the UK.

Changes in Government policy and the economic climate

Often a period of recession can lead to a period of reduced fertility (Sobotka et al., 2010). However, other  factors affecting the fertility rate mean the combined effect of changes in support for families (for example maternity and paternity leave and tax credits) and the changing economic climate does not have a clear impact in a particular direction (Sobotka et al., 2010; RAND, 2012).

The TFR is still lower than the peak of 2.95 children per woman in 1960s

Women of childbearing age during the 1960s were generally having larger families than those childbearing 20 years later. For example, women born in 1940 had an average 2.36 children during their lifetimes while those born in 1960 had only 1.98. This is partly due to a rise in the proportion of women remaining childless (19% for women born in 1960 compared with 11% for those born in 1940).

1The 2011 TFRs for UK and non-UK born women (first published in August 2012) are calculated using population estimates from the Annual Population Survey (APS) not based on the 2011 Census. The 2011 TFRs for all women are calculated using ONS’ mid-2011 population estimates based on the 2011 Census. The two are not directly comparable.

 

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Categories: Population, Births and Fertility, Live Births and Stillbirths
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