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Childlessness Reaches a New Record Among English, Welsh Women

Published: January 29, 2022
Three women wearing protective face masks take a selfie on Queen Street as non-essential shops open for the first time since the start of lockdown on June 22, 2020 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. (Image: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Just 49.9 percent of women aged 30 in England and Wales have children, the first time a figure less than 50 percent has been recorded since 1920. 

According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, 50.1 percent of English and Welsh women born in the year 1990 have not given birth as of the end of 2021, reflecting the trend across the industrialized world towards lower fertility. 

By comparison, a Jan. 28 report by the Metro noted, 57 percent of women born in 1970 were mothers by the age of 30, while that figure went up to 76 percent for English and Welsh women born in 1950. Going back further, 86 percent of those born in 1941 had given birth to at least one child by the time they were 30. 

Last year’s statistics were the first time that less than half of women in the two UK countries had given birth by age 30. Records began in 1920. 

The ONS report, released Jan. 27, concluded that while women are delaying childbirth, they are not shunning motherhood altogether, as the proportion of women who had no children by age 45 — the typical “end of their childbearing years — has remained fairly constant. 

In 2020, 18 percent of women aged 45 that year were childless, according to the data.  

Many countries around the world have seen significant drops in fertility owing to rising costs of living, widespread access to birth control and abortion, shifts in social expectations, and greater female participation in the workforce. 

A total fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman or higher is necessary to avoid population decline. The UK saw its fertility rate nearly halve from 3 children per woman in the mid-1960s to just 1.65 in 2019, according to the World Bank. Germany and France had 1.54 and 1.87 children per woman in 2019, respectively. 

According to U.S. government data, the total fertility rate fell from 2.12 in 2007 to 1.64 in 2020. 

“U.S. fertility rates are likely to be considerably below replacement levels for the foreseeable future. This is driven by more than a decade of falling birth rates and declining births at all ages for multiple cohorts of women,” a report by the Brookings Institution concludes. 

Birth rates in East Asia are even lower than in the West, with Japan and South Korea having TFRs of just 1.36 and 1.08 children per woman in 2020. China, despite its 1.4 billion-strong population, is heading toward severe demographic aging, with the impact of the draconian one-child policy and socio-economic pressures causing an increasing number of young people to have just one child or forgo procreation entirely