Women over 40 are having more babies than those under 20 for the first time since WWII

Posted by
Harriet Hall

According to official statistics released by the ONS, women over the age of 40 are having more babies than those under the age of 20 for the first time since the Second World War.

The figures reveal a steady decline in teenage pregnancy – with the figures almost halving since 1990, when there were 33 births per 1,000 teenage girls.

Additionally, we can see that the fertility rate among women over 40 has more than trebled since 1981, when the rate was 4.9 for women aged 40-plus, compared to 28.1 for women under 20.

The ONS attributes these changes to advances in fertility treatments, as well as the increase in number of women in higher education, the importance placed upon career by women, the rising costs of parenthood and the uncertainty of the property market.

The older age group was seen to have the largest percentage increase in fertility rates in 2015 (at 3.4%), while at the same time, the younger group had the largest percentage decrease (of 7.1%). In 2015, there were 697,852 live births. Within this figure, there were 15.2 per 1,000 women over the age of 40, compared with 14.5 per 1,000 teenage women.


The figures also reveal that fertility rates have dropped in those under 25, while it has increased for those over 30, with women between the ages of 30 and 34 having the highest fertility rate of any age group since 2004, when those aged 25-29 were most fertile.

The average age for having a child is now 30.3 – an age that has been steadily increasing since 1975 and, one that goes against the idea that women’s fertility goes into decline in their mid-twenties.  

Elizabeth McLaren, head of vital statistics outputs at the ONS says:

“The trend for women to have babies at older ages continued in 2015. Over the last 40 years, the percentage of live births to women aged 35 and over has increased considerably. Women aged 40 and over now have a higher fertility rate than women aged under 20 - this was last recorded in the 1940s.”


Speaking to The Guardian, Head of Policy at the Fawcett Society, Jemima Olchawaski, says that younger mothers are seen to suffer more in their careers:

“We also know that the motherhood penalty in terms of pay is greatest, again, for women who have their children under 33. So it might be that women are realistically assessing that having a child younger is more likely to have a detrimental impact on their experiences at work and so delaying it for those reasons.”

The British Pregnancy Advisory service says that the “older” motherhood trend is not going anywhere any time soon, and that it’s time for society to stop preaching about the dangers and adapt to work with it:

“Rather than bemoaning this development, we should seek to understand and support the decisions women make. More affordable childcare and improved maternity rights may make it easier for some women to start their families earlier if they wish, but we also need to ensure we have high quality reproductive healthcare services configured to meet women's needs, whatever the age at which they conceive.”