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24 February 2015

UK: Conception statistics show continuing trend of later motherhood

The number of teenage girls who become pregnant is the lowest since records began, but there has been a marked increase in the number of over 35s giving birth.

Figures released today by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) indicate there were 24.5 pregnancies per thousand for girls aged between 15 and 17 in 2013 - down by 13 per cent from the previous year, the Express reports.

In 2013, there were 24,306 girls under 18 years old who became pregnant compared with 27,834 in 2012. Of these more than half – 50.7 per cent – ended in abortion.

There were 1,151 conceptions for 14-year-olds and 227 for the under-14s in 2013 - both slightly down on the year before.

The ONS believed the drop in the number of under-age pregnancies could be explained by several factors, including the improved programmes of sex and relationship education introduced by successive governments. Its report also stated that it could be due to a ‘shift in aspirations of young women towards education’ or the ‘perception of stigma associated with being a teenage mother’.

The statistics showed a drop of 11,000 in the overall number of conceptions for all ages across England and Wales. There were 872,849 – a 1.3% decline since 2012.

But there was a rise in the number of pregnancies to women aged 34 and above. There were 64.5 conceptions per thousand for those ages between 34 and 39 – an increase of 1.7 per cent.

The ONS report stated: ‘Reasons for an increased number of women giving birth at ages 30 and above 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.’

In total, 57.2% of pregnancies for all ages occurred outside of marriage in 2013, the same as the year before.

Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at bpas, said of the statistics:

‘Despite popular perceptions about the prevalence of teenage pregnancy, the conception rate among under-18s has continued to fall, and is now at its lowest level since records began in 1969. More than half of conceptions to under-18s end in abortion, and it is extremely important that young women have swift access to the services and support they need to make the right decision for them when faced with an unintended pregnancy.

‘Meanwhile the conception rate for older women has risen steadily, as women wait longer to start their families. There are many reasons for this, not least the time it takes to achieve financial stability and establish a career. Women are often warned about leaving it too late to start trying for a baby, but this really needs to be kept in perspective.  Pregnancy and childbirth for older women can present particular challenges, but rather than pressuring women into having children earlier than they feel is right for them we need to ensure the maternity services are in place to deliver the care they need.”

Key findings from the ONS conception statistics

• The under 18 conception rate for 2013 is the lowest since 1969 at 24.5 conceptions per thousand women aged 15 to 17.

• The estimated number of conceptions to women aged under 18 fell to 24,306 in 2013 compared with 27,834 in 2012, a decrease of 13%.

• The estimated number of conceptions to women aged under 16 was 4,648 in 2013, compared with 5,432 in 2012 (a fall of 14%).

• In 2013 there were an estimated 872,849 conceptions to women of all ages, compared with 884,748 in 2012, a decrease of 1.3%.

• Conception rates in 2013 increased for women aged 35 years and over, and decreased for women aged under 35 years from 2012.

Fewer teenagers getting pregnant but older mothers on the rise. The number of teenage girls who become pregnant is the lowest since records began. Express, 24 February 2015

Conceptions in England and Wales, 2013. Office for National Statistics, 24 February 2015

Also read:

Analysis: What’s the problem with older mothers? This Q&A reviews the scientific and medical debates about later motherhood, seeking a balance between understanding the biological barriers to having babies in later life, and the lived reality – that many women do have healthy pregnancies in their late thirties. It situates this discussion in its wider social context, and indicates the policy implications that might flow from a trend towards later maternal age. Reproductive Review, 3 February 2014