National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Decreasing Fertility Rate

Decreasing Fertility Rate

Scott (1999) argued that the importance of fertility rate change has been exaggerated and is not of great significance when combined with the decreasing rate of infant mortality; while the rate of fertility has fallen significantly, the population as a whole has not - but this may be due to other factors such as increasing longevity.

Other social scientists, such as Clarke and Henwood in their work on lone parent families in Britain, argue that it is not so much the number of women having children that is changing but the increasing age at which they start having children, and, consequently the total number of pregnancies is dropping (Clarke & Henwood, 1997). The increasing age at first marriage and at first pregnancy has increased the fertility rate amongst women aged 40+. However, perhaps because of the factors discussed in paragraphs 7 and 8 above, the fertility rate amongst younger women has fallen and the evidence suggests that the increasing rate of fertility amongst older women does not compensate for the downward trend observed amongst younger women (Clarke & Henwood, 1997).

While the factors of choice discussed above are seen as important in reducing the fertility rate, the increased availability and effectiveness of contraception and the relatively recent changes in legislation on abortion have been proposed as the main reasons for the observed decrease in fertility rates. Scott (1999) suggests that contraception, the conditional right to abortion and the marked increase in the acceptance of abortion and contraception amongst women during the 30-year period in question, have radically changed the position of women giving them greater freedom and control over marriage and family size. All of these ‘medical’ factors, and the social choice factors, may create many compounding situations where no single factor is a more important explanatory variable than any other.