In 2004 the total fertility rate (TFR) in the UK was 1.77 children per woman. This was an increase from 1.71 in 2003 and a further increase from the record low of 1.63 in 2001, with the rates in 2000 and 2002 being at similar low levels. It is too early to say whether this is the start of a sustained rise. During the 1960s ‘baby boom’ the TFR peaked in 1964 at 2.95 children per woman
As well as falling fertility rates, changing fertility patterns in the UK over the last 30 years or so have been characterised by rising mean age at first birth and higher levels of childlessness. In 2004, the mean age of women having their first birth was 27.1 years. This was a rise of 3.4 years from 1971. Around one in five women currently reaching the end of their fertile life are childless. This compares to one in ten women born in the mid-1940s.
Births Throughout the twentieth century there were large fluctuations in the number of births in the UK. Sharp peaks in the numbers of births occurred after both world wars. The largest annual number of births during the twentieth century occurred in 1920, when there were 1,126,800 births.
In the 1960s there was a more sustained ‘baby boom’, with births rising to a peak of 1,014,700 in 1964. This was followed by a rapid decline in the numbers of births in the 1970s, reaching a low of 657,000 in 1977.
The large numbers of women resulting from the 1960s ‘baby boom’ helped produce a rise in the number of births in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Births subsequently fell to 669,000 in 2001 and 2002. Since then, with rising fertility rates, births have been rising again. In 2004 there were 716,000 births in the UK, an increase of 20,400 on the previous year.
Sources: Office for National Statistics, General Register Office for Scotland and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency
Notes: Figures quoted for the number of births are related to the number that occurred in the UK in a calendar year. Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is the average number of children a woman would have if she experienced the age-specific fertility rates of a particular year for her entire childbearing years. Changes in the number of births are in part due to changes in the population age structure. So the TFR is commonly used to look at fertility because it standardises for the changing age structure of the population. Mean age at first birth has been standardised to take into account the changing age structure of the population. Mean age at first birth and percentage of women childless are for England and Wales because UK data are not available. However, the trends shown in England and Wales are reflective of the experience for the whole of the UK.