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After a slight up-tick in births in 2012, the UK's Office for National Statistics reported Wednesday that the number of live births was down by 4.3 percent in 2013 – the largest annual decrease since 1975.

There were 698,512 live births in England and Wales in 2013, compared with 729,674 in 2012.

The total fertility rate also fell from 1.94 children per woman to 1.85, below the 2.1 children per woman needed for a stable population without immigration.

The Office for National Statistics states that the fall in the total fertility rate is also the largest annual decrease in fertility since 1975, with the largest percentage decreases seen in women aged under 20, and from 20-24, with decreases of 13 percent and 8.9 percent respectively.

The report notes that the average age of mothers in 2013 increased for the first time to 30.0 years, compared with 29.8 years in 2012, and explains that changes to the total fertility rate are tied to an increasing number of women delaying childbearing to their later years.

“In most developed countries women have been increasingly delaying childbearing to later in life, which has resulted in increases in the mean age at first birth and rising fertility rates among older women,” the report says.

“Although fertility rates for women aged 40 and over have been rising fast, fertility among women in their forties is still considerably lower than for women in their thirties. Women aged 30-34 currently have the highest fertility of any age group.”

Other factors that the report says could have had an impact on fertility levels in 2013 include uncertainty about employment, lower career and promotion opportunities, and government changes to the welfare system. The changes include reduced housing benefits for those living in homes the government deems to be larger than they need, and removal of child benefits where one parent earns over £50,000 (US$ 85,600).

The report also points to an increased participation in higher education by women, increased female participation in the labor force, the increasing importance of a career, the rising opportunity costs of childbearing, labor market uncertainty, housing factors, and instability of partnerships, as contributing factors in the birth decline.

The government body reports that 26.5 percent of all births were to immigrant women.

“In recent years, the proportion of births to women born outside the UK has been higher than the proportion of the female population of childbearing age born outside the UK,” the report says, with the highest “fertility contribution” from women born in “certain countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and African countries.”

The report also notes that 47.4 percent of all 2013 babies were born outside marriage/civil partnership, compared with 41.4 percent in 2003.

“This continues the long-term rise in the percentage of births outside marriage/civil partnership, which is consistent with increases in the number of couples cohabiting rather than entering into marriage or civil partnership,” the ONS explained.

In comparison to declining births, the death rate in the UK is increasing.

There were 506,790 deaths registered in England and Wales in 2013, compared with 499,331 in 2012, a rise of 1.5 percent.

The ONS reported that in 2013, cancer was the most common broad cause of death (29 percent of all deaths registered) followed by circulatory diseases, such as heart disease and strokes (28 percent of all deaths registered).

The ONS report on births in England and Wales in 2013 is available here.

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