Number of women getting pregnant falls across England and Wales despite pandemic

The number of women getting pregnant continues to fall across England and Wales – although the pandemic did see conceptions rise among the over-30s. There were 817,515 conceptions among women aged 15 to 44 across the two countries in 2020, the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data reveals.

That was down from 821,089 the previous year and equivalent to 73.4 per 1,000 women in the age group, making it the fifth year in a row the rate has fallen. However, this has been driven by a decline in conception rates among younger women in recent years, continuing a shift towards pregnancy in later life.

There were 31,438 pregnancies among women aged 40 and over in 2020, up from 30,015 a year earlier. At a rate of 17.1 per 1,000 in the age bracket, that was the highest figure since at least 1990, when 6.6 per 1,000 were recorded.

The rate for those aged 30 to 34 went up from 119.4 per 1,000 to 123.9 per 1,000, making it the fourth consecutive year the age group had the highest rate, overtaking 25- to 29-year-olds. Among women aged between 35 and 39, the rate also rose slightly in 2020, to 66.7 per 1,000.

A conception is defined as a pregnancy of a woman that leads to a live birth, stillbirth or an abortion. The ONS said that, although a fall in conceptions might be expected to lead to fewer newborns, figures indicate that births actually increased in 2021. However, the body’s head of health and life events analysis James Tucker said this varied over the year.

He said: “The first half of 2021 saw a decrease in births, all of which would have been conceived in 2020 when conceptions decreased; while the second half of 2021 saw an increase in births, which related to conceptions at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021. The figures also show conceptions among women aged over 30 years have risen, while continuing to drop for those in the younger age groups.

“This release is our first look at conception rates during the coronavirus pandemic, when lockdowns and restrictions may have affected behaviours; it is possible conception rates during this time were impacted differently across the different age groups of women.”

Each of England’s nine regions and Wales have seen a drop in conceptions rates over the last decade. However, the steepest decline was recorded in London, where the rate across all age groups fell by 15% from 90.1 per 1,000 in 2009 to 76.2 per 1,000 some 11 years later.

It means 2020 was the first year over the period that the capital did not have the highest rate, falling behind the North West (78.0 per 1,000) and the West Midlands (77.1 per 1,000). The ONS figures also show that the percentage of conceptions leading to an abortion continued to rise across England and Wales in 2020, hitting a record 25.3%.

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