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Chapter 2 - Births


In 2013, 56,014 births were registered in Scotland, 2,013 (3.5 per cent) fewer than in 2012. This is the fifth fall after six consecutive annual increases in the number of births. The total in 2013 was 4,027 (6.7 per cent) lower than the 2008 peak, and it was well below the peak of over 100,000 per year in the early 1960s, and the level of around 65-70,000 per year between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s, as Figure 2.1 shows. There were 10.5 births per 1,000 population in 2013.

Figure 2.1: Births and deaths, Scotland, 1951-2013

Graph showing births and deaths in Scotland in 1951-2013

The proportion of births to unmarried parents (including births registered solely in the mother's name) was 51.4 per cent in 2013 compared to 45.5 per cent ten years earlier and 31.3 per cent in 1993. However, the proportion of births registered solely in the mother's name - generally around 6-7 per cent in the 1980s and 1990s - has fallen over the past 13 years to 5.0 per cent in 2013, suggesting that the increase in births to unmarried parents has been in babies born to unmarried partners who are in a relationship.

Fertility Rates

The simplest fertility rate is the crude birth rate, which is defined as the number of live births per 1,000 total population. Appendix 1 Table 1 shows that in 2013 the crude birth rate for Scotland stood at 10.5 compared to roughly 18 around the end of the 1960s. Because it takes no account of the age/sex structure of the population, the crude birth rate has only limited value (e.g. for giving rough comparisons between areas with broadly similar age/sex structures). Appendix 1 Tables 2 and 3 show crude birth rates for administrative areas in Scotland and selected European countries. Appendix 1 Table 2 also gives standardised birth rates for the administrative areas of Scotland: these adjusted birth rates take account of the population structures in the different areas. The overall rate for Scotland, of 10.5 births per 1,000 population, can be compared with lows of 8.5 and 8.6 for Edinburgh and Aberdeen City respectively, and highs of 13.0 and 13.3 for Midlothian and the Scottish Borders.

Please note that revised rates for 2002 to 2010 have been included in this publication, using rebased population estimates for 2002 to 2010 which were published in December 2013.

A better approach than using the crude birth rate is to consider the General Fertility Rate (GFR) which is based on the numbers of females of childbearing age. Figure 2.2 shows the general fertility rate (births per 1,000 females aged 15-44), along with the number of females aged 15-44. During the 'baby boom' of the 1960s, the GFR reached 99.5 (in 1962). It then fell sharply to around 60 during the late 1970s and 1980s before declining more slowly during the 1990s, eventually dipping below 50 at the start of the 21st century. It then rose slightly to 56.4 in 2008 but fell to 53.7 in 2013. Interestingly, the female population aged 15-44 was relatively low during the baby boom of the 1960s. Moreover, in the 1980s the relatively large number of females born in the 1950s and 1960s were passing through what were their peak childbearing years. However, those ages' fertility rates were falling during that period resulting in a levelling off of the number of births rather than the increase that may have been expected.

Figure 2.2: Estimated female population aged 15-44 and General Fertility Rate (GFR), Scotland, 1951-2013

Graph showing estimated female population aged 15-44 and General Fertility Rate (GFR) in Scotland, 1951-2013

A more detailed picture is given by the Age Specific Fertility Rates (ASFRs) by mother's age, in five-year age groups, in Figure 2.3. This shows many significant age-related features of the pattern of childbearing over the last sixty years. The key point is that, as well as choosing to have fewer babies, females are also choosing to have them later in life.

Other points of interest are:

Figure 2.3: Live births per 1,000 females, by age of mother, Scotland, 1951-2013

Graph showing live births per 1,000 females, by age of mother in Scotland, 1951-2013

Since the mid-1970s, there has been a trend towards having children at older ages. The percentage of births to mothers aged under 20 fell from an average of about 11 per cent between 1976 and 1980 to around 5 per cent in 2013. Mothers aged 20-24 accounted for roughly a third of all births in 1976-1980 and 17 per cent in 2013. The percentage of births to mothers aged 25-29 has also fallen, from around 35 per cent in 1976-80 to 27 per cent in 2013. As a result, females aged over 30 accounted for just over half of all births in 2013; 30 per cent were to mothers aged 30-34, 16 per cent were to 35-39 year olds and 4 per cent were to females aged 40 and over.

Figure 2.4 further illustrates the ageing pattern of fertility by showing detailed ASFRs for selected years: 1951, 1964 (peak number of births), 1977 (end of steep decline), 1991 recent peak) and 2013. Though the levels differed considerably, the age patterns of fertility for 1951, 1964 and 1977 were roughly the same. However, the age distributions for 1991 onwards show distinctly older peaks and that for 2013 reveals a further reduction in fertility of females in their twenties, mirrored by an increase for females in their thirties, compared with 1977 and 1991.

The trend towards later childbearing is underlined by changes in the average age of all females giving birth. This was 29.9 in 2013, compared to 27.4 in 1991, 26.1 in 1977 and 27.4 in 1964. Similarly, the average age of fathers (excluding births registered in the mother's name only, where the father's details were not provided) was 32.5 in 2013 compared to 30.0 in 1991 and 28.6 in 1977.

Figure 2.4: Live births per 1,000 females, by age, selected years

Graph showing live births per 1,000 females, by age, selected years

The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is a commonly used summary measure of fertility levels calculated by summing the age specific rates for a single year. It gives the average number of children that a group of females would expect to have if they experienced the observed ASFRs in each of their childbearing years. For a population to replace itself, the TFR needs to be around 2.1.

The TFR for Scotland since 1951 is plotted in Figure 2.5. Not surprisingly, it follows the same general pattern as the GFR described above. It rose to 3.09 in 1964 before dropping sharply to 1.70 in 1977. Since then, with a few minor fluctuations, it fell more slowly to the 2002 rate of 1.47 before increasing to 1.77 in 2008 - its highest level for 26 years. Since then it has been declining, and in 2013 the TFR was 1.61.

Figure 2.5: Total fertility rate, Scotland, 1951-2013

Graph showing total fertility rate in Scotland, 1951-2013

Though widely used, in part because it is relatively easy to calculate, the TFR has serious deficiencies as it is based on only one year's observations. For example, when females are delaying childbearing, as it appears that they have been in Scotland (given the trend towards later childbearing), the TFR is likely to underestimate the number of children females will eventually have.

A more satisfactory measure is average completed family size. Figure 2.6 shows the completed family size (or cumulative cohort fertility) by age for females born in selected years. Those born in 1951 had attained an average completed family size of 2.03 by the time they reached 45, whereas for those born in 1956 and 1961 the figures were 1.93 and 1.87 respectively. The figure also permits the comparison of family size at selected ages for the various cohorts as they pass through the childbearing ages. Of crucial importance is the extent to which the later cohorts are falling behind in family building. For example, by age 30 the cumulative childbearing of females born in 1976 was about 0.5 lower than that of the 1956 cohort. Of the cohorts shown, the 1981 cohort is the first to show a higher fertility rate than the previous cohort. However, by age 27 the fertility rate of the 1986 cohort was very similar to, but fractionally lower than that of the 1981 cohort. Whilst the generally increasing fertility rates of those aged over 30 may lead to further catching-up, it is unlikely that this will increase the average completed family size to the levels attained as recently as the cohorts of females born in the 1960s.

Figure 2.6: Cumulative cohort fertility rate for selected birth cohorts, Scotland

Graph showing cumulative cohort fertility rate for selected birth cohorts, Scotland

Since the early 1980s, Scotland's fertility has been lower than fertility in the other parts of the United Kingdom (UK). Figure 2.7 compares the TFRs for England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 1971 with those for Scotland. Until the late 1970s, Scotland's TFR was slightly higher than that for England and Wales. However, since the early 1980s, Scotland's TFR has dropped steadily below the levels for England and Wales. In 1971, the TFR for Northern Ireland was markedly higher than for the other three countries but since then the differential has been significantly reduced. The rise in fertility levels in Scotland between 2002 and 2008 was broadly paralleled elsewhere in the UK. There was some divergence in the following few years but the available figures for 2013 suggest the gap may narrow again.

Figure 2.7: Total fertility rates, UK countries, 1971-2013

Graph showing total fertility rates, UK countries, 1971-2013

Country of birth of parents

Eighty five per cent of births in 2013 were to mothers who had been born in the UK, including 75 per cent to females who were born in Scotland. A further 7 per cent of mothers had been born elsewhere in the European Union (EU), including 5 per cent from the countries which joined the EU in 2004 (like Poland). Commonwealth countries were the birthplace of 5 per cent of mothers including 2 per cent from the Indian sub-continent. In the cases where the father's country of birth was known, 85 per cent had been born in the UK, including 74 per cent who were born in Scotland.

The decline in the number of births since 2008 is due to falls in births to mothers who were born in Scotland or England: there were small increases in births to mothers who were born elsewhere in the EU and in other non-EU countries.

Considering only births for which both the mother's and the father's countries of birth were known, in 15 per cent of births in 2013 neither parent was born in Scotland and in 11 per cent of births neither was born in the UK. These figures compare to 9 per cent and 3 per cent respectively in 2003.

More information about birth statistics

More detailed information about Scotland's births can be found in the Vital Events - Births section or in the births section of the Vital Events Reference Tables of the NRS website.

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