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New figures show women are choosing to have fewer children

The average completed family size for women reaching 45 years old has dropped to a record low, according to the latest childbearing statistics from the ONS. Women born in 1971 – the most recent cohort to have completed their childbearing years – had an average of 1.9 children according to 2016’s figures, which is the lowest number since records began. This represents a significant decrease from their mothers' generation (women born in 1944) who had 2.21 children on average.

Two-child families remain the most common, with 37% of women born in 1971 opting to have two children in total. The proportion of women having no children (18%) and having one child (18%) are tied in second place – the combined total of these groups (36%) marks the highest proportion in decades of women having fewer than two children. The percentage of women having four or more children has fallen by half: from 20% of women born in 1935 to just 10% of the 1971 cohort.

The total fertility rate (TFR) for women in England and Wales (regardless of age) has also dropped slightly, according to additional figures released by the ONS this week. TFRs were lowest in urban areas – particularly Brighton & Hove, York, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Exeter and boroughs of inner London.

A bpas spokesperson said,

“There are many factors which may influence a woman’s decision to have fewer children, including the ability to combine paid work and parenting. Economic considerations almost certainly play a part – we know women take the prospect of parenting extremely seriously, and may feel they can devote more both in terms of time and financial resources to a child if their family is smaller.

“What is clear is that women are spending a larger proportion of their fertile years avoiding pregnancy than ever before.  This underlines the crucial need for comprehensive access both to contraceptive services and, since no method is 100% effective, to abortion care. We must ensure that these services – as well as assisted conception services for those struggling to become pregnant – are as accessible as possible throughout the country, if we are to enable to women to plan the families they want, according to their circumstances.”


Notes to Editors:

About bpas

bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org.