In 2011, nearly half (49%) of all live births were to mothers aged 30 and over
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of fathers were aged 30 and over in 2011 (excluding births registered solely by the mother)
In 2011, 84% of babies were registered by parents who were married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting
In 2011, the standardised average (mean) age of mothers for all births was 29.7 years
For first births the standardised average (mean) age of mothers was 27.9 years
This bulletin presents statistics on live births in England and Wales in 2011 by characteristics of the mother. In particular, it provides birth statistics by age of mother, type of registration (within marriage/civil partnership, joint registration or sole registration), and average (mean) age of mother for all births and first births.
Many of the key summary figures included in this release have been published previously by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is however the first time that birth statistics for 2011 have been published by registration type (including a breakdown by age of mother and father), single year of age of mother and age of father. Birth statistics for 2011 providing the mean age of mother by birth order are also released for the first time.
Fertility rates and the average age of mother for England and Wales, 2002-2010 included in this publication have been calculated using revised mid-year population estimates which take account of the 2011 Census. Figures may therefore differ very slightly from those previously published.Back to table of contents
Babies born in England and Wales in 2011 were most likely to have a mother aged 25–34, with over a half (56%) of mothers in this age group. A further 24% of babies were born to younger mothers, aged under 25, while a fifth (20%) had mothers aged 35 and over at the time of birth (figure 1). When compared with 2001 there has been very little change.
In 2011 the percentage of births to mothers aged 25–34 was more than double the percentage to mothers aged under 25, this was similar in 1938. In contrast, in 1971 births to mothers aged under 25 (47%) exceeded births to 25–34 year old mothers (46%).
Fathers tend to be older than mothers (figure 2). Nearly half of all babies born in 2011 (49%) had mothers aged 30 and over, but nearly two-thirds (65% of babies) had fathers aged 30 and over (sole registered births, where the father’s information is not available, have been excluded). The percentage of fathers aged 30 and over has remained relatively unchanged over the last decade (65% of babies were fathered by men in this age group in 2001).
In 2011 the standardised average (mean) age of all mothers giving birth in England and Wales was 29.7 years, a small increase compared with 29.5 years in 2010.
Between the mid-1940s and mid-1970s, the average age of mother decreased by just under 3 years (29.3 years in 1944 to 26.4 years in 1973). Since 1973 the average age of mother has generally increased. The overall rise since 1973 reflects the increasing numbers of women who have been delaying childbearing to later ages. Possible influences include; increased participation in higher education, increased female participation in the labour force, the increasing importance of a career, the rising opportunity costs of childbearing, labour market uncertainty, housing factors and instability of partnerships ( Jefferies, 2008 (297 Kb Pdf) ; Ní Bhrolcháin, et al., 2012).
These figures refer to all births; however, the standardised average age of women having a first birth (see background note 8) in 2011 was estimated to be 27.9 years of age, compared with 27.7 in 2010 and 26.6 in 2001. Changes in the average age of mother for first births since 1940 mirror changes in the average age of all mothers.Back to table of contents
Marriage or civil partnership (see background note 6) remains the most common family setting for births in England and Wales as a whole despite the steady fall in the percentage of births registered to married couples since the 1960s. In 2011 just over half of births occurred within marriage or civil partnership (53%) compared with 60% in 2001 and 94% in 1961.
The percentage of births occurring outside marriage or civil partnership (47% in 2011) varies considerably by age. Almost all women (96%) aged under 20 who gave birth in 2011 were not married or in civil partnership. In contrast, at ages 30–34 and 35–39 the majority of women giving birth were either married or in a civil partnership, with only 31% of births outside marriage/civil partnership for each, the lowest percentage across all the age groups.
In 2011, the percentage of births occurring outside marriage or civil partnership was higher for all age groups compared with 2001.
Births outside marriage or civil partnership can be registered jointly by both the mother and father/second parent (see background note 6), or solely by the mother. Where the birth is jointly registered and the parents give the same address, it can be inferred that they are cohabiting. The proportion of births registered to cohabiting parents has increased in recent years (figure 3) but remained unchanged between 2010 and 2011 at 31% of all births, compared with 25% in 2001 and 10% in 1986 (the first year figures for cohabiting parents are available). This trend is consistent with increases in the number of couples cohabiting rather than entering into marriage or civil partnership (For further information, see Statistics on families and households on the ONS website). In contrast, the percentage of births registered solely by the mother has fallen very slightly over the last ten years to 6% in 2011 and 2010 from 7% in 2001. In comparison 7% of births in 1986 were registered by the mother alone.
Overall, 84% of births in 2011 were to parents who were married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting (couples who are not married but are living together). Of the remainder, a further 10% of births were registered jointly by parents living at separate addresses, while only 6% were registered by the mother alone.
Births to mothers aged under 25 were most likely to be jointly registered by cohabiting parents, while for women aged 25–29 and older, marriage/civil partnership was the most common family setting for births, followed by cohabitation (figure 4). The percentage of births which were either jointly registered by parents living at different addresses or solely registered by the mother was higher among women aged under 25 than among older mothers.
O’Leary et al. (2010) (2.5 Mb Pdf) provides a more detailed analysis of births by registration type in England and Wales, 1991 to 2008.Back to table of contents
During May 2012 changes were made to the Population Statistics Act 1938, which means that information on the number of previous children and whether previously married is now collected from all mothers at birth registration and not just from married women. This will have an impact on a number of tables and proposals for changes (66.2 Kb Pdf) to outputs for 2012 and 2013 data are available on the ONS website. Feedback from users is welcome.
Changes to the tables included within Live Births by socio-economic status of father are also being considered including the possible implementation of the combined method for deriving the National Statistics Socio-economic classification (using the higher NS-SEC of both parents rather than the NS-SEC of the father). A proposal for changes to outputs for 2012 data will be available on the ONS website alongside the release of 2011 data.Back to table of contents
The Office for National Statistics uses birth statistics to:
produce population estimates and population projections, both national and subnational
quality assure census estimates
report on social and demographic trends
The Department of Health is a key user of birth statistics. Data are used, for example, to plan maternity services and inform policy decisions. Other key users of the data are local authorities and other government departments, who use the data for planning and resource allocation.
Other users include academics, demographers and health analysts who conduct research into trends and characteristics. Lobby groups use birth statistics to support their cause, for example, campaigns against midwife shortages. Special interest groups, such as Birth Choice UK, make the data available to enable comparisons between maternity units to help women choose where they might like to give birth. Organisations such as Eurostat and the UN use birth statistics for making international comparisons. The media also report on key trends in births.Back to table of contents
Contact details for this Statistical bulletin
Telephone: +44 (0)1329 444110