John Bingham, Telegraph, November 16, 2015
Babies born within marriage could become a minority in England and Wales within five years as younger couples turn their back on matrimony, new figures suggest.
According to the Office for National statistics just over half–52.5 per cent–of women who gave birth in England and Wales last year were married.
That compares to 57.8 per cent a decade earlier and more than 61 per cent at the beginning of the new century.
Although the decline appears to have stalled in the last two years, if it continues at the average rate seen over the last decade, only a minority of babies would be born in wedlock by 2020.
But when the effects of immigration are removed from the figures, the landmark has already been passed–as most British-born women who gave birth last year were unmarried.
The trend can be seen in new official figures which also confirm that middle aged mothers have overtaken younger women in maternity wards for the first time in a major milestone in the reshaping of family life in Britain.
The Office for National Statistics said that more babies were born in England and Wales last year to mothers over the age of 35 than under 25.
While almost six out of 10 women who gave birth last year were between the 25 ages of and 35, the figures show that 21 per cent were above that age bracket and only 20 per cent below, reversing the broad proportions seen a year earlier.
The figures also show a clear majority of women who gave birth were over 30, with middle class women significantly more likely to have babies later.
Although the average age at which women have their first child is still just within the 20s–at 28.5, up around two and a half months on the figure a year ago–the overall average age of those in maternity wards in England and Wales now stands at 30.2.
But it is the trend among younger women which is driving the shift away from marriage.
Last year only 36 per cent of women who gave birth under the age of 30 were married.
Separate figures published earlier this year show that immigration is effectively propping the proportion of births within marriage.
Only 45.3 per cent of British born women who gave birth last year were married compared with 72 per cent of foreign-born mothers.
Harry Benson, research director of the Marriage Foundation think-tank, said: “The long term decline of marriage may look like it’s come to a halt but it hasn’t.
“Fewer and fewer women who have babies in their 20s are married.
“This will have a huge effect on their future stability as a couple and therefore on their children’s upbringing.
“Like it or not, the odds are stacked against couples who don’t commit before they have children.
“Whereas six out of eight married parents stay together throughout their child’s upbringing, only three out of eight unmarried parents do so.
“Marriage still matters because clear unambiguous commitment matters.”
The ONS said the shift towards later childbearing was likely to be a result not only of the transformation of the workplace with women increasingly building careers, the financial impact of having children but also relationship breakups.
It explained in a commentary to the figures: “Since 1975 the average age of mother has generally increased.
“The overall rise since 1975 reflects the increasing numbers of women who have been delaying childbearing to later ages.
“Possible influences include; increased participation in higher education, increased female participation in the labour force, the increasing importance of a career, the rising opportunity costs of childbearing, labour market uncertainty, housing factors and instability of partnerships.
“The average age of father has followed a similar trend since 1964 with the average age of father consistently being around three years higher than the average age of the mother.”
But the figures show that middle class families are driving the shift towards later parenthood.
Almost two thirds of women who gave birth in England and Wales last year under the age of 30 came from households in which the main earner was employed in a “routine” or “intermediate” occupation while those in professional, managerial or administrative jobs were more likely to have children later.