Recent trends in UK fertility and potential impacts of COVID-19

Ann Berrington, Joanne Ellison, Bernice Kuang, Sindhu Vasireddy and Hill Kulu

Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on fertility is a challenging task. We put forward potential mechanisms through which the pandemic could affect childbearing in the UK, according to the age of the individual and the presence of children. For people aged under 30, a negative impact is likely. Possible reasons include a lack of socialising because of lockdowns, and more economic uncertainties in the fallout of the pandemic. Among those with children, and older couples with greater housing and financial stability, concerns about reduced support from health services or family could result in them having fewer children. The pandemic might also have a positive impact on childbearing, for example through couples spending more time together at home, or furlough/unemployment giving people an opportunity to step back from their careers to start or grow their family.

In the UK, levels of childbearing at all ages were declining even before the pandemic. Provisional estimates from the Office for National Statistics suggest that fertility rates had already fallen to historically unprecedented low levels in England and Wales during January-September 2020. Any impact of COVID-19 on fertility must be viewed in this unusual context. Using previous findings on how ‘economic shocks’ affect society, we create four ‘what if’ scenarios to test how the pandemic might affect individuals at different ages – three of them show an expected decline in fertility over the next three years. If these scenarios play out, it will lead to significantly fewer births each year compared with the pre-pandemic period.

The working paper can be found here.

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Twenty years of having babies across different countries of the UK: How has parents’ partnership status changed? 

Bernice Kuang, Sindhu Vasireddy, Ann Berrington and Hill Kulu

In the past 20 years in the UK, the partnerships that people are in when they have a baby have changed dramatically. In all four constituent countries of the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) the proportion of live births that occur within marriage has decreased. It has become much more common for unmarried women to have babies (nonmarital births). However, not all nonmarital births are the same. Births outside of marriage might be to a couple who are living together but not married (cohabiting), or to single women (who may or may not register the birth jointly with their partner).

The composition of nonmarital births has changed over time and in different ways between the UK’s countries. To explore this, we have used birth registration data to examine live births in different types of partnerships from 1998 to 2017. As having children outside of marriage has become the norm across the UK, this policy briefing unpacks the nature of these partnerships.

The policy briefing can be found here.