Despite people being cooped up in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic, it did not lead to a baby boom, according to the latest data that shows a small decline in the conception rate for 2020.
In 2020, there were 817,515 conceptions among women aged 15 to 44 years in England and Wales, a decrease for the sixth year in a row, albeit a smaller one – just 0.4% –than in previous years, according to the Office for National Statistics.
James Tucker, head of health and life events analysis at the ONS, said: “Although it may be expected that this would have led to a drop in births in 2021, provisional births data indicate that 2021 births actually increased, but that this varied over the year.”
He said this was because the first half of 2021 had a decrease in births, all of which would have been conceived in 2020 when conceptions decreased, but the second half of 2021 had an increase in births relating to conceptions at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021. This perhaps suggests that people deferred having a baby until later in the year after the initial shock of the pandemic.
Conceptions data is not yet available for 2021, but the early data may indicate an increase in conceptions in the second year of the pandemic.
The figures also show that the conception rate is increasing for women aged 30 to 34, who had a record high of 248,528 conceptions in 2020, a rate of 123.9 per 1,000 women. In 2020, all age groups 30 years and over experienced an increase in conception rate for the first time in several years, when only women over 40 had increases.
Conversely, conception rates among teenagers continued the decline that has been observed since 2007, falling to 13.1 conceptions per 1,000 women from 15.8 in 2019. All age groups under 30 had declines in the conception rate, with the steepest fall among those under 20, potentially due to a government programme aimed at preventing teenage pregnancy rolled out in 2018.
For the first time in recent years, London did not have the highest conception rate after a 2.7% decline in which it handed over the top spot to the north-west, followed by the West Midlands, pushing the capital, where the cost of living is the highest in the UK, into third place. Since 2009, London’s conception rate has declined by 15%.
The percentage of conceptions leading to legal abortions increased for the sixth year in a row to reach a quarter.
Researchers in demographics at the University of Southampton have predicted the pandemic may lower fertility rates for younger people without children because of the lack of socialising and the economic uncertainty.
Nevertheless, they suggested it may increase the likelihood of older, more stable parents having additional children.
The impact of the pandemic on birth rates is difficult to predict because although baby booms are common after tragic events, for example the “baby boomer” generation born after the second world war, times of economic crisis, such as after the 2008 recession, are typically associated with baby busts because of tighter household finances and job losses.