This statistical bulletin presents estimated annual conceptions occurring to women usually resident in England and Wales in 2010. Conception statistics bring together records of birth registrations collected under the Births and Deaths Registration Act (1953) and of abortion notifications received under the Abortion Act (1967), amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (2008). They include all pregnancies of women usually resident in England and Wales which lead to one of the following outcomes:
a maternity at which one or more live births or stillbirths occur, which is registered in England and Wales,
a termination of a pregnancy by abortion under the 1967 Act, which takes place in England and Wales.
Conceptions do not include miscarriages or illegal abortions due to the lack of complete data sources.
Conceptions are analysed primarily using numbers, rates and the percentage leading to abortion. The statistics are tabulated by age, area of usual residence of woman and marital status.
This is the first time that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published annual 2010 statistics on conceptions for women usually resident in England and Wales. Provisional under 18 quarterly data has previously been published to provide a more timely indication of trends to enable monitoring for local authorities on levels of teenage pregnancy. The difference between provisional and final data is included in the metadata published as part of the Vital Statistics: Population and Health Reference Tables.
A minor error has been corrected in the percentage change between 1998 and 2010 for the under 18 conception rate in England, originally published on 28 February 2012. The conception rates are correct but the percentage change should be 24.0 and not 23.8. This figure was corrected on 28 February 2012. ONS apologises for any inconvenience caused.
The conception rate for 2010 has increased to 82.3 conceptions per thousand women aged 15–44, from 80.9 in 2009, a rise of 1.7 per cent. The proportion of all conceptions resulting in a maternity in 2010 was 79.2 per cent. This proportion has remained fairly stable over the last two decades.
Changes in the size of the female population aged 15–44, those deemed to be in their childbearing years and therefore at risk of conception, will affect both the number of conceptions and the conception rate. Changes in the size of the population are determined by births of females in previous years, mortality and migration.
The rise in the overall conception rate between 2009 and 2010 was driven entirely by an increase in the number of conceptions as the population at risk of conception fell by 0.3 per cent. This rise could be attributed to the increased contribution of women aged 30 and over to conceptions, or possibly due to the economic climate following the 2008–2009 recession. Family may also be valued more highly during tough economic times and, as parents could be out of work, they may have more time to spend on child rearing. Others may delay having a family due to financial concerns caused by the recession.
In 2010, the estimated number of conceptions in England and Wales rose by 1.4 per cent to 909,245 from 896,466 in 2009. This increase is a continuation of the trend in the rising number of conceptions recorded since 2001, despite a slight fall (of 0.8 per cent) between 2007 and 2008. This is the first time since the Abortion Act (1967) came into force that the number of conceptions has risen above 900,000. Prior to 1969, the first year for which abortions data are available, the number of conceptions was equivalent to the number of maternities.
As can be seen from the chart, following the introduction of the Abortion Act there was a large increase in conceptions. This may be due to the number of conceptions leading to abortion being included and a change in attitudes toward marriage and sex during the 1960s, evidenced by a rise in the proportion of births outside marriage.
The population of women at risk of conceiving (women aged 15–44) will have an influence on the number of conceptions. The composition of the population will also influence the number of conceptions as there are peak age groups for maternities (25–29 and 30–34) and abortions (20–24) and the relative sizes of these groups will impact upon the number of conceptions. This means that the number of births in a year will also impact on the number of conceptions in future years, when women pass through the ages when they are most likely to conceive. This can be seen in the above chart, where there was a trough in the late 1970s which was then reflected in a trough in the early 2000s.
The sudden decline in conceptions in the early to mid 1970s, in spite of a rise in the number of women in childbearing years could be explained through the increased use of contraception (Wellings and Kane, 1999). Oral contraception was introduced in 1961, but this was only available to married women and was a chargeable prescription. This was followed in 1964 by the establishment of a network of family planning clinics, known as Brook Advisory Centres. 1964 was also the year in which births peaked, so maternities would have been falling (in part due to use of contraception) when the Abortion Act came into force. In 1970 there was a mandate for family planning clinics to start treating single women. In 1974 contraception became free on the NHS, opening up services to women regardless of marital status and ability to pay.
There have been a number of scares about the safety of the contraceptive pill (Wellings and Kane, 1999). These pill scares deterred women from using the pill as a method of contraception due to concerns about their health (Wood et al, 1997) (8.12 Mb Pdf) . This may have led to a number of women using less reliable methods of contraception or no contraception at all. These pill scares correspond to increases in the number of conceptions and occurred in 1976–77, 1983, 1986 and 1995–96.
The gradual increase in conceptions from 2001 onwards is partially explained by the increased contribution to conception numbers by women aged 30 and over. In 1990 the proportion of conceptions to women aged 30 and over was 26.3 per cent, this peaked in 2003 at 41.3 per cent and was 40.5 per cent in 2010. Factors influencing the increasing age at conception is explored in a later section.
There has been a long-term rise in the proportion of conceptions (and births) occurring outside marriage. In 2010 conceptions outside of a marriage/civil partnership accounted for 57 per cent of all conceptions in England and Wales, unchanged from 2008. In contrast, only 43 per cent of conceptions occurred outside marriage in 1990. In 2010 the proportion of conceptions outside marriage/civil partnership which resulted in a maternity was 69 per cent, compared with 93 per cent of conceptions inside a marriage/civil partnership.
Between 2009 and 2010 conception rates increased in all age groups, with the exception of women aged under 20. The largest percentage increase in conception rates occurred among women aged 40 and over, 30–34 and 35–39, rising by 5.2 per cent, 4.9 per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively. Smaller increases in conception rates were recorded among women aged 20–24 (2.8 per cent increase) and women aged 25–29 (0.2 per cent increase). Conception rates in women aged under 20, including women aged and under 18, have continued to decrease. Rates for women aged under 20 have fallen by 4.8 per cent, while conception rates for women aged under 18 fell by 7.3 per cent.
The conception rate for women aged 35–39 continued to rise, from 60.1 conceptions per thousand women in age group in 2009 to 62.9 in 2010, a rise of 4.7 per cent. The number of conceptions to this age group rose by 1.6 per cent, indicating that a large proportion of this rise was due to the population at risk of conceiving shrinking by 2.8 per cent between 2009 and 2010.
Women aged 30–34 had the lowest proportion of conceptions leading to abortion at 12.6 per cent in 2010. This compares with 12.4 per cent in 2009, when this age group also experienced the lowest proportion of conceptions leading to abortion. The conception rate continued to rise for this age group, reaching 129.4 conceptions per thousand women in age group in 2010, compared with 89.7 in 1990 and 125.9 in 2009. The 30–34 age group is the youngest age group in which conception rates have risen almost continuously since 1990 and is perhaps to do with the reasons outlined above.
Conceptions to women aged 25–29 have remained fairly stable, the conception rate rising only 0.2 per cent from 133.8 in 2009 to 134.1 in 2010. The conception rate for this age group declined between 1990 and 2001 when it reached 114.2 conceptions per thousand women, a fall of 17.2 per cent before gradually rising. The conception rate for women aged 25–29 is now 2.8 per cent below the 1990 level of 138.0 conceptions per thousand women aged 25–29.
Conceptions to women aged 20–24 have followed a similar pattern to the 25–29 age group, although the conception rate for this age group has flattened out in recent years. The 20–24 age group declined between 1990 and 2001 when the conception rate was 102.5 per thousand women. This represented a fall of 17.3 per cent. The increase in the conception rate for this age group, since 2001 has not been as great as the 25–29 age group. The increases in the conception rate since 2001 have resulted in the conception rate for women aged 20–24 in 2010 being 12.4 per cent below the 1990 level of 124.0 conceptions per thousand women. The conception rate for this age group has risen by 0.1 per cent rate from 108.5 in 2009 to 108.6 conceptions per thousand women in 2010.
The conception rate for women aged under 20 fell by 4.8 per cent to 54.6 conceptions per thousand women aged 15–19 in 2010 (from 57.3 in 2009). This continues the overall downward trend in the conception rate for women aged under 20 over the last decade from 62.5 conceptions per thousand women in 2000 despite a few small increases in the rate in 2004, 2006 and 2007. In 2010 conceptions to women aged under 18 accounted for 37.8 per cent of all maternities to women aged under 20, this compares with 39.1 per cent in 2009.
In 2010 there were 34,633 conceptions to women aged under 18 compared with 38,259 in 2009, a decline of 9.5 per cent. This is the lowest number of conceptions in this age group since comparable records began. Nearly half of all conceptions to women aged under 18 in 2010 led to a legal abortion, this figure remains unchanged from 2008.
The under 18 conception rate for England and Wales was 35.5 conceptions per thousand women aged 15–17 compared with 38.3 in 2009, a decrease of 7.3 per cent. This is the lowest estimated under 18 conception rate since 1969 and represents the greatest percentage decrease in the under 18 conception rate since a fall of 7.8 per cent between 1975 and 1976. This 7.3 per cent fall in the conception rate can be attributed to a 5.2 per cent fall in the conception rate leading to abortion and a 9.2 per cent fall in the rate of conceptions leading to a maternity. Figures for 2010 continue the overall downward trend in the conception rate for women aged under 18 since 1998 when there were 46.6 per thousand women aged 15–17, despite slight increases in 2002 and 2007. Since 1998 the conception rate for women aged under 18 has decreased by 23.8 per cent.
There are a number of factors which could explain the recent reduction in teenage conceptions, including:
the programs invested in by successive governments (for example sex and relationships education, improved access to contraceptives and contraceptive publicity),
a shift in aspirations of young women towards education (Broecke and Hamed, 2008),
the increased media awareness of young people and the perception of stigma associated with being a teenage mother (McDermott et al, 2004).
It is widely understood that teenage pregnancy and early motherhood can be associated with poor educational achievement, poor physical and mental health, social isolation, poverty and related factors. There is also a growing recognition that socio-economic disadvantage can be both a cause and a consequence of teenage motherhood (Swann et al, 2003). This led the previous Government to set a target to halve the teenage conception rate in England by 2010, when compared with 1998. Local authorities set ten year strategies in place, aiming to reduce the local rate between 40 and 60 per cent. These local targets were to help underpin the national 50 per cent reduction target.
The targets were discontinued under the current Government, which came to power in 2010, however, teenage pregnancy has remained an area of policy interest. The under 18 teenage conception rate is one of the three sexual health indicators in the Public Health Outcomes Framework (2013–2016) as one of the national measures of progress on child poverty. Thus there is a continued focus on preventing teenage conceptions as well as the social impact upon teenage mothers.
The percentage of conceptions leading to a legal abortion varies by age group. Over the last two decades this figure has generally increased for women aged under 20 but decreased for women aged 35 and over. For women in their twenties and early thirties the percentage of abortions has remained relatively stable and is now in decline.
For women usually resident in England the overall conception rate rose by 1.7 per cent from 81.1 conceptions per thousand women aged 15–44 in 2009 to 82.5 in 2010. An increase was also recorded for women usually resident in Wales where the overall conception rate rose by 1.4 per cent from 76.5 conceptions per thousand women aged 15–44 in 2009 to 77.6 in 2010.
A comparison of rates across regions in England for all ages shows that the North East had the lowest conception rate in 2010, with 73.0 conceptions per thousand women aged 15–44 compared with 73.1 in 2009. Yorkshire and The Humber had the largest fall in regional conception rates at 1.4 per cent, falling from 77.0 conceptions per thousand women in 2009 to 75.9 in 2010. The North East and Yorkshire and The Humber were the only two regions to experience a decline in their overall regional conception rates. London had the highest overall conception rate at 96.8, compared with 94.8 in 2009, a rise of 2.1 per cent. The largest proportional increase in the conception rate was in the West Midlands, where the rate rose by 2.7 per cent, from 84.9 conceptions per thousand women aged 15–44 in 2009 to a rate of 87.2 in 2010.
For women usually resident in England the under 18 conception rate fell by 7.3 per cent from 38.2 conceptions per thousand women aged 15–17 in 2009 to 35.4 in 2010. A decrease was also recorded for women usually resident in Wales where the under 18 conception rate fell by 6.0 per cent from 40.1 conceptions per thousand women aged 15–17 in 2009 to 37.7 in 2010. In 1998, the under 18 conception rate in England was 46.6 conceptions per thousand women aged 15-17. The 2010 rate represents a decrease of 24 per cent since 1998. A comparison of under 18 conception rates for England and Wales can be seen in the chart below.
A comparison of rates across regions in England shows that the North East had the highest under 18 conception rate in 2010, with 44.3 per thousand women aged 15–17 compared with 46.9 in 2009. The North East has had the highest under 18 conception rate since 2007 (53.2 conceptions per thousand women aged 15–17). The South East had the lowest rate for women aged under 18 in 2010 with 28.3 per thousand women aged 15–17, compared with 30.1 in 2009. London experienced the biggest decline in the conception rate for women aged under 18, falling by 8.8 per cent from 40.7 in 2009 to 37.1 in 2010.
It should be noted that at the local level 1998, and indeed 2010, may have represented an atypical year for a given area (either having an unusually high number of teenage conceptions in a year, or an unusually low number).
A comparison of under 18 conception rates across local authorities is illustrated in the map and tables below.
|Rank||Local Authority||Number of Conceptions 2010||Conception rate per thousand women age 15–17|
|7||North East Lincolnshire UA||183||60.0||59.7||69.8|
As can be seen from the table and map above there is significant variation in the conception rate at the local level. When analysing figures for areas of low population, for example Rutland UA, it is important to also take into account the numbers involved as a small change in the numbers if the numbers are small could lead to large changes in the rate. In the case of Rutland UA, there were 7 conceptions in 2010 compared with 17 in 2009. Other population characteristics can also have an impact, for example, the ethnic composition of an area, the level of deprivation and educational attainment levels.
There is also significant variation in the positioning of a local authority over time when comparing under 18 conception rates. Middlesbrough UA was the only local authority in the ten areas with the highest conception rate for women aged under 18 in 2010 and 2009. Only Corby and Burnley appeared in the ten areas with the highest conception rate for women aged under 18 in 2010 and 1998.
There has been widespread variation in the success of local authorities in reducing teenage conception rates since 1998. For further information on this variation and ways in which effective reductions in teenage pregnancy can be made, see the Teenage Strategy Beyond 2011, published by the Department for Education.
The Department for Education (DfE) is a key user of conception statistics. DfE monitor the number and rate of under 18 conceptions and provide this data to local authorities to assist them in their wider work to reduce child poverty and narrow inequalities.
The Department of Health (DH) is a key user of conception statistics. DH monitor the rate of under 18 conceptions under the Public Health Outcomes Framework 2013–2016 as part of the measures of health improvement. DH uses the numbers of conceptions at all ages as a marker for the success of policies on access to contraception (and other sexual health services). DH uses conception by age statistics because they are of use to maternity service providers, particularly during the antenatal period, to allow them to plan for the level of demand for antenatal services.
In Wales teenage conception rates are used widely as outcome indicators in the sexual health context for example in the Sexual Health and Well-being Action Plan for Wales, 2010–15, as well as being a general indicator of health and health inequality for example in Our Healthy Future. The conception rate for under 18 years is the most commonly used with the underage rate (under 16 years) being a key health indicator for children and young people. See for example Child Poverty targets.
Local authorities use the data, particularly the number and rate of under 18 conceptions to feed into their Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and to inform their commissioning decisions. They also use the statistics to make comparisons with other local areas and with the county, region and national level.
Sexual health charities who provide the public with information, advice and support services, use the statistics to promote services that contribute to the reduction in conceptions.
More data on annual conceptions for 2010 are available on the ONS website.
The Vital Statistics: Population and Health Reference Tables provide provisional quarterly and annual conception statistics for England and Wales by age of woman at conception.
Quarterly Conceptions to Women aged under 18 provides provisional quarterly statistics on the number of conceptions to women aged under 18 by regions and other local authority areas within England and Wales.
There is an interactive mapping tool which enables trends in conceptions to be analysed at the local level.
Previous publications on Annual Conceptions to Women aged under 18, England and Wales and Conception Summary Tables have now been incorporated within the annual publication and as such have been discontinued as publications in their own right.
For more information on data quality, legislation and procedures relating to conception statistics see
Conceptions Metadata 2010 (123.6 Kb Pdf)
Conceptions Quality and Methodology Information (128.1 Kb Pdf)
Conception statistics are subject to disclosure control to prevent the discovery of individuals at sub-national levels of geography. Occasionally suppressing other areas is necessary to prevent disclosure by differencing. Disclosure of conceptions is in accordance with guidance on the release of abortion statistics, 2005.
Annual abortion statistics are published by the Department of Health. These statistics are published on date of occurrence, whereas conception statistics are published based on estimated date of conception.
Scottish conception figures are available for women aged under 16, under 18 and under 20. The definition of a conception in Scotland includes maternities (pregnancies ending in a live birth or stillbirth) and pregnancies resulting in a therapeutic abortion.
In Northern Ireland it is lawful to perform an operation for the termination of a pregnancy, where:
it is necessary to preserve the life of the woman, or
there is a risk of real and serious adverse effect on her physical or mental health, which is either long term or permanent.
In any other circumstance it would be unlawful to perform such an operation. Due to the small numbers of abortions carried out in Northern Ireland each year, and in order to protect patient confidentiality, information on abortions is only released as a Northern Ireland total, and as such cannot be broken down for comparative analysis. Consequently there are no comparable conception figures for Northern Ireland.
Further statistics on Births for England and Wales are available on the ONS website.
Wellings K and Kane R, 1999, ‘Trends in teenage pregnancy in England and Wales: how can we explain them?’ Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 92(6), pp 277–282
Wood R, Botting B and Dunnell K, 1997 (8.12 Mb Pdf) , ‘Trends in conceptions before and after the 1995 pill scare’ Population Trends 89, pp 5–12
Tromans N, Natamba E and Jefferies J, 2009 (2.08 Mb Pdf) , ‘Have women born outside the UK driven the rise in UK births since 2001?’ Population Trends 136, pp 28–42
Broecke S and Hamed J, 2008, ‘Gender Gaps in Higher Education Participation’, Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills Research Report 08 14
McDermott E, Graham H and Hamilton V, 2004, ‘Experiences of Being a Teenage Mother in the UK: A Report of a Systematic Review of Qualitative Studies’
Swann C, Bowe K, McCormick G and Kosmin M, 2003, ‘Teenage pregnancy and parenthood: a review of reviews’, Health Development Agency
Figures for 2011 will be published in spring 2013.
Special extracts and tabulations of conception data for England and Wales are available to order for a charge (subject to legal frameworks, disclosure control, resources and agreements of costs, where appropriate). Such enquiries should be made to:
Vital Statistics Outputs Branch
Health and Life Events Division
Office for National Statistics
Tel: +44 (0)1329 444553
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