The changing age of UK parents

Every day, all around the world, an average of roughly 360,000 babies are born to parents of all different ages, creeds, lifestyles, backgrounds and relationship status. But what does that look like here in the UK?
While we often hear that women are having children later in life these days, does that actually follow with the data? We took a look at government figures to find out whether parents are getting older and to see if there are any other patterns in the changing age of UK parents.

Total number of births per year

Since 1938, the number of births has fluctuated, but between 1938 and 2018, there has only been an increase of 5.8%. The birth rate has had a number of peaks between these dates, such as the baby boom that occurred after World War 2, with 1947 being the year with the highest number of births, a total of 881,026. That’s a 25.4% higher birth rate than 2018.   

Age of mothers since 2000

Since the start of the millennium, the age of mothers has stayed fairly consistent, with the largest age group to register births being 30 to 34. This briefly dipped in 2008 and 2009 to be 25 to 29.
We can also see that the age of mothers is shifting, with the number of mothers under the age of 20 dropping and the number of those aged 45 and over increasing. In 2000, 45,846 women under the age of 20 gave birth, but in 2018, that had dropped to just 18,976, a decrease of 58.6%.
The opposite is true of mothers aged 45 and over, with just 663 recorded in 2000, compared to 2,366 babies born in 2018, an increase of 71.9%.

Number of births by age group from 2000 to 2018

The change in age since 1938

While there are drastic changes in the years since the turn of the millennium, we can see even more of a change since the earliest data provided, with an overall decrease in the number of mothers aged 29 and under since 1939 and an overall increase in mothers aged 30 and over.
In fact, in 1938, mothers under the age of 30 accounted for 59.9% of the total births, whereas mothers aged 30 and over accounted for just 40.1%. In 2018, mothers under the age of 30 accounted for 44.3% of total births and mothers aged 30 and over accounted for 55.7%.

Comparing the age of mothers in 1938 and 2018

As you can see in the following chart, the age ranges of 20 to 24, and 25 to 29, follow a similar pattern, with peaks and troughs occurring around the same time.

However, the 30 to 34 age range seems to have been steadily and consistently increasing since its lowest point in 1975.

The age of first-time mothers

The data also shows us the age at which women choose to start a family and how that has changed over time. In 2018, the mean age of women at the birth of their first child was 28.9 years old, compared to 25.9 in 1938.
1969-1971 saw the youngest first-time mothers at just 23.7 years old, whereas the oldest first-time mothers were from 2018.

Mothers’ ages by location

Kensington & Chelsea have the oldest mothers in the UK.

While we’ve seen how relationship status might impact the age of mothers, what about how other things can affect this age, such as their location? When looking at the number of mothers in each age group broken down by town and region, we can see that some parts of the country are more likely to have younger or older mothers than others. According to the data, Hartlepool has the youngest mothers, while Kensington & Chelsea has the oldest mothers.
We also compared the median salaries earned by women in full-time work in these cities, discovering that those cities where younger mothers are more prevalent had lower median salaries, with mothers under the age of 30 earning less than £23,000 p/a and mothers in the oldest age bracket being the highest earners with a median salary of nearly £46,000 p/a.

Mothers' ages and salary by town/city

We can see a pattern begin to emerge when we look at the ages broken down by region rather than just by city or town. The north of the country and Wales tend to have the higher proportions of younger mothers, while London and the south have a larger proportion of mothers giving birth later in life. In fact, London has the largest proportion of mothers in the age groups from 30 up, whereas the north east has the largest percentage of mothers aged 24 and under, and Yorkshire and the Humber has the largest proportion of mothers in the 25 to 29 age group.
The same pattern of median salaries correlating with the age of mothers continues with the regions. We can see that the regions with the youngest mothers also have the lowest median salaries, with the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber having the largest percentage of mothers under the age of 30 as well as the lowest salaries of all the regions. London, on the other hand has the highest median salary as well as the largest proportion of mothers over the age of 30.

Mothers' ages and salary by region 

Male fertility rates by age and year

While we have the data to see the changing age of UK mothers we are also able to see the number of men having children by age group. According to these numbers, men seem to be fathering children far later than women giving birth, but overall, parents’ ages appear to follow much the same patterns between the genders. The age group of 30 to 34 is the largest in 2018 for parents - both mothers and fathers. This follows the trend of more parents waiting to have children until later in life than in previous years.

Although we often hear news that people are having children later than ever, the data suggests that the change isn’t quite as dramatic as people may think. While there is a significant increase in the average age between the mid-60s and 70s to 2018, the difference between 1938 and 2018 is less dramatic. Contrary to what some headlines may have you believe, women have been having children well into their 30s stretching back decades. Perhaps we have more in common with the families of the past than we realise.

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We conducted our research using data from ONS titled, ‘'Births by parents’ characteristics'’. All data, tables, and charts included in our report are taken from the figures provided in this dataset. Information about the specifications and details of how this data was taken can be found in the original dataset itself.
The data referencing the number of births by region is taken from an ONS dataset titled, 'Births by mothers’ usual area of residence in the UK'.
Data relating to the earnings of women by region are taken from an ONS dataset titled, ‘Earnings and hours worked, place of residence by local authority: ASHE Table 8’. The data taken refers to women in full-time employment, taking their median annual earnings.