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ONS report on conceptions in England and Wales in 2020 released today

  • Data released today by the ONS provides a first look at the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions on conception rates in England and Wales.  
  • 2020 saw a decline in overall conception rates. Previously released data has also shown a decrease in births during the first half of 2021, all of which would have been conceived in 2020 when conceptions also decreased.
  • The report shows significant variation in changes to conception rates across the age groups, with increases among women aged 30 and over, and decreases in conception rates among younger women. The sharpest declines in conception rates were among those aged under-20
  • Data from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, shows that in 2020 women from the most deprived backgrounds were almost three times more likely to have abortions than women from the wealthiest backgrounds.
  • BPAS commented that “the pandemic, and the policies adopted by the Government in response, have clearly had very different impacts on the reproductive choices of women of different age groups and socio-economic backgrounds.”

Data released today by the Office for National Statistics has provided a first-look at the potential impact of the pandemic and associated lifestyle restrictions on conception rates in England and Wales.

The report, Conceptions in England and Wales 2020, shows that for the fifth year in a row, there was a decline in the numbers of conceptions. The conception rate for women of all ages in England and Wales also saw a small decrease from 73.8 per 1,000 women in 2019 to 73.4 per 1,000 women in 2020.

The data shows a significant variation in changes to conception rates among different age groups. In 2020, there was an increase in conception rates among all age groups aged 30 and over, while rates decreased among all age groups under-30. The sharpest decreases in conception rates were among those aged under 20. The under 18 conception rate fell by 17% between 2019 and 2020, and now stands at a record low of 13.1 conceptions per 1000 women aged under 18. This is likely to be linked to the impact of lockdown restrictions on teenagers social lives.  

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, has warned that the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a particularly sharp impact on pregnancy decision making for women from lower socio-economic backgrounds. BPAS data has shown that in 2020, women from the most deprived backgrounds accounted for 16.5% of all abortions, and women from the wealthiest backgrounds accounted for 5.9% and that the gap widened considerably from 2019, when the figures were 13.7% and 6.6% respectively.

Katherine O’Brien, a spokesperson for BPAS, said:

“The pandemic, and the policies adopted by the Government in response, have clearly had very different impacts on the reproductive choices of women of different age groups and socio-economic backgrounds. Lockdown restrictions which prevented socialising with anyone other than members of your own household will have had a greater impact on women in younger age groups, who will be less likely to have been co-habiting with partners. This may be reflected in the sharp decrease in conception rates among those aged under 20, with conceptions rates among under-18s now standing at a record low having fallen by 17% between 2019 and 2020.

"BPAS data has shown that in 2020, women from more deprived backgrounds were three times more likely to have an abortion than their wealthier counterparts. Unintended pregnancy is a fact of life, but women will make very different decisions about whether to continue that pregnancy based on the circumstances she finds herself and her existing family. Women on low-incomes are feeling a deep sense of anxiety about their employment prospects and their financial precarity at the same time as facing a cost of living crisis, and these challenges are playing a significant role in pregnancy decision making.”

ENDS

The full ONS report, Conceptions in England and Wales 2020, is available online here.

For further information, please contact Katherine O’Brien, BPAS Associate Director of Campaigns and Communications, on katherine.o’brien@bpas.org or 07881 265276.

About BPAS

BPAS is a charity that sees over 100,000 women a year for reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception at clinics across Great Britain. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. BPAS also runs the Centre for Reproductive Research and Communication, which seeks to develop and deliver a research agenda that furthers women’s access to evidence-based reproductive healthcare, driven by an understanding of women’s perspectives and needs. You can find out more here: https://www.bpas.org/get-involved/centre-for-reproductive-research-communication/

In 2021, BPAS launched BPAS Fertility, England's first not-for-profit fertility service, to provide ethical, evidence-based, person-centred care that supports patients. We provide a safe, high-quality, and accessible service, without profiteering from patients. Our service gives those ineligible for NHS funding an affordable option to access the care they need.