The project ‘Understanding Recent Fertility Trends in the UK and Improving Methodologies for Fertility Forecasting’ (FertilityTrends) will examine the significant fluctuations in fertility levels in the UK in the last two decades, will investigate their causes, and will develop improved methodologies for fertility forecasting. The last two decades have witnessed dramatic changes in fertility levels, which were not predicted by demographers or government statisticians: Fertility significantly increased in the first decade of the 21st century, whereas it has declined thereafter. These changes when translated into numbers of births, have had important implications, for example in the provision of health services, childcare, and school places. The project aims, first, to produce detailed measures of fertility changes in recent years in the UK. Second, it will decompose the overall changes into those attributable to compositional changes in the UK population, e.g. by country of birth and education, and those which are attributable to behavioural changes over time, i.e. women have fewer or more children. Finally, these insights will be used to develop new methodologies for more accurate forecasting of fertility applying them to the UK and its constituent countries. The developed methodologies could be applied to project fertility in other industrialised countries.
Professor Kulu, from the Centre for Population Change and the Population and Health Research Group of the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at St Andrews, said: “I am very delighted to receive this award and collaborate with colleagues at the University of Southampton. The support by ESRC provides the opportunity to significantly improve our understanding of the drivers of fertility change. Fluctuations in fertility levels have a significant effect on the population age composition; the post-war baby boom and the subsequent fertility decline are the main causes of population ageing we observed in the UK and elsewhere in industrialised countries. Similarly, recent fertility fluctuations have significant short- and long-term implications for planning and policy making, at both national and local levels. A decline in fertility levels by 10% will lead to about 40 thousand fewer newborn babies in the UK annually, and the effects may be even more pronounced locally. In the context of rapid population ageing and fluctuating migration numbers, there is an urgent need to measure the contribution of births to the growth and, even more importantly, age composition of the British population. The task of predicting even short-term trends in fertility presents a major challenge for social scientists, the Office for National Statistics and government departments.”