England and Wales’ baby crisis laid bare: Fascinating maps reveal areas at biggest risk of ‘underpopulation’ without migration – with women in some parts of London now only having an average of just 0.6 babies… so how does YOUR neighbourhood fare?

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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The extent of England and Wales’ baby bust was today laid bare by shock analysis showing no authority has a fertility rate above ‘replacement’ level.

MailOnline can today reveal that the worst-hit areas have seen birth rates plummet by 39 per cent since the turn of the century.

Nationwide, women are having fewer babies than at any time since the 30s, laying bare the reality of the ongoing crisis that threatens to cause economic turmoil and pile huge pressure on the NHS and social care. 

For a population to sustain itself, the total fertility rate — the number of babies each woman has in her lifetime — must exceed 2.1.

But our probe reveals that the rate stands below the one mark in the City of London.

Other parts of the capital, Cambridge and Brighton either hover at the one-mark or just above it.

MailOnline’s full analysis is available to view in an searchable map which showcases the fertility rate of all of the 330-plus authorities in England and Wales and how they have changed since 2001. 

Timelapse data, plotted onto a fascinating slope chart, also illustrates how the rate has fallen for each individual neighbourhood. 

It comes after alarming research today warned that three in four countries face the threat of ‘underpopulation’ by 2050 because of plunging birth rates. 

By 2100 this could rise to 97 per cent of all nations, in what experts have described as a ‘staggering social change’.

Powerhouses such as Britain and the US will have to become reliant on immigration to avoid ‘immense’ consequences, The Lancet study concluded.

Without replenishment of an ageing population, scientists claim public services and economic growth are at risk. Ever-declining birth rates will also heap extra pressure on the NHS and social care.

Commentators today warned policymakers need to ‘wake up to the fact that falling fertility rates are one of the greatest threats’ to the West.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows the fertility rate in England and Wales slumped to 1.49 in 2022, down from 1.55 in 2021.

It means rates have almost halved since peaking at just shy of 3 in the mid-60s baby boom.

The 2.1 recommendation was last hit in 2020 by just five local authorities — Slough, Luton, Barking and Dagenham, Harrow and Peterborough.

MailOnline found that almost eight in ten areas (255 of 331) have seen a drop in their fertility rate since 2001. Fourteen have stayed flat. 

Tower Hamlets has witnessed the most significant fall (39 per cent), logging a rate of 1.11 in 2022 — down from 1.82. 

It was followed by Hackney (down 37 per cent, from 2.08 to 1.31) and Lambeth (down 33 per cent, from 1.64 to 1.1). 

Outside of London, Brighton experienced the largest decrease over the two decades (26 per cent, from 1.35 to 1).

South Staffordshire, meanwhile, reported the biggest rise — up 13 per cent from 1.44 in 2001 to 1.63. 

But over the last five years, rates have dipped far more dramatically, with just seven local authorities recording a rise. 

North East Derbyshire saw the highest increase at 4 per cent, from 1.53 to 1.65.

The City of London and Cambridge were among the biggest falls, logging drops of 45 and 44 per cent, respectively — 0.63 down from 1.14 and 1 from 1.79. 

According to The Lancet study, the UK’s birth rate is predicted to fall to 1.3 children per woman of childbearing age by 2100.

The US will see a similar downward trajectory as the UK.

Instead, half of all babies will be born in sub-Saharan Africa by 2100. 

Fertility replacement doesn’t account for the impact of migration, meaning overall population levels can still increase in a country despite a drop in fertility rates.

The threat of underpopulation sparked by ‘baby busts’ is a pet topic of Elon Musk. In 2017, the eccentric Tesla billionaire said Earth’s population was ‘accelerating towards collapse but few seem to notice or care’.

Dr Natalia Bhattacharjee, of the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, said the trends will completely reconfigure the global economy and the international balance of power.

She said: ‘The implications are immense.

‘These future trends in fertility rates and live births will completely reconfigure the global economy and the international balance of power and will necessitate reorganising societies.

‘Global recognition of the challenges around migration and global aid networks are going to be all the more critical when there is fierce competition for migrants to sustain economic growth and as sub-Saharan Africa’s baby boom continues.’

She added: ‘There’s no silver bullet.

‘Social policies to improve birth rates such as enhanced parental leave, free childcare, financial incentives, and extra employment rights, may provide a small boost to fertility rates.

‘But most countries will remain below replacement levels.

 

 ‘And once nearly every country’s population is shrinking, reliance on open immigration will become necessary to sustain economic growth.

‘Sub-Saharan African countries have a vital resource that ageing societies are losing — a youthful population.’

Responding to its findings, Professor Melinda Mills, a demographist at the University of Oxford said: ‘Shrinking and aging populations demand preparedness and reorganisation of societies. 

‘From impacted food security and migration patterns to the very infrastructures of countries. 

‘Population composition affects infrastructure such as schools, housing, transport, housing and health care and pensions but also cultural and voting changes.’

The UK’s fertility rate freefall was momentarily hit by a blip during 2021.

However, this was put down to a mini baby ‘bounce’ by couples who put their family plans on hold at the start of the Covid pandemic.

Experts believe the fall is partly down to women focusing on their education and careers and couples waiting to have children until later in life.

The UK’s fragile economy and cost-of-living crisis is also putting people off having children, some believe, evidenced by abortion rates simultaneously spiking.

Professor Mills told MailOnline: ‘The known barriers to having children and the reasons behind shrinking fertility include the inability to combine employment with family, lack of affordable childcare, housing costs and obtaining a mortgage and importantly, economic uncertainty, such as certainty about employment and expenses. 

‘The past era of economic uncertainty and challenges couples face has undoubtedly inhibited their ability to realise their fertility intentions.’ 

Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Lambeth and Brighton, which all saw significant drops in fertility rates according to ONS data, also share one common link, she added. 

‘They include neighbourhoods with some of the highest levels of multiple deprivation, which is an index used to measure income, employment, education, health, crime, barriers to housing and services,’ she said. 

Meanwhile, gerontologist Professor Sarah Harper of Oxford University told MailOnline: ‘Most initiatives in other countries, especially financial, to persuade women to have more children, have actually resulted in a temporary increase, followed by a slump — which makes planning for schools and pediatric services for example, problematic. 

‘The issues are around gender equality, respect for women’s choices, increasing the status of women.’ 

A spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service also said: ‘Enabling measures such as increased availability of funded childcare may enable some women to make different choices, but it will never force women to make a decision they don’t wish to.’

Others cite the environment, with people fearing that they will worsen their carbon footprint by having a child or that their child will have a bleak future due to climate change.

There is no evidence that Covid vaccines are to blame, with scientists insisting there is no proof they harm fertility. 

In the UK, Tory MP Miriam Cates has long led calls for pro-natal policies to improve the birthrate, including tax breaks for stay-at-home mothers.

The threat of underpopulation has also been a pet topic of eccentric billionaire Elon Musk, who has preached about it for years. In 2017, he said that the number of people on Earth is ‘accelerating towards collapse but few seem to notice or care’

In a speech at National Conservatism Conference last year, she told delegates: ‘Fertility rates decline has not occurred in spite of the economic and social policies of the last thirty years.

‘It is a direct result of how those policies have failed to value and reward the behaviours that lead to starting a family.’

She added: ‘Having children is about as much of a “lifestyle choice” as eating — it is fundamental for survival.’ 

The threat of underpopulation has also been a pet topic of eccentric billionaire Elon Musk, who has preached about it for years.

In 2017, he said that the number of people on Earth is ‘accelerating towards collapse but few seem to notice or care’.

Then in 2021 Musk, who has 11 known children, warned that civilisation is ‘going to crumble’ if people don’t have more children.

At Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s ‘Atreju’ political festival in Rome in December, Musk also urged Italians to have more children to ‘save Italy’s culture’.

Later, he added: ‘My advice to all government leaders and people is make sure you have children to create a new generation or the culture of Italy, Japan and France will disappear.’ 

He said: ‘We are in danger of no longer having these countries.’ 

So what is behind the West’s baby bust? 

Women worldwide, on average, are having fewer children now than previous generations.

The trend, down to increased access to education and contraception, more women taking up jobs and changing attitudes towards having children, is expected to see dozens of countries’ population shrink by 2100.

Dr Jennifer Sciubba, author of 8 Billion and Counting: How Sex, Death, and Migration Shape Our World, told MailOnline that people are choosing to have smaller families and the change ‘is permanent’.

‘So it’s wise to focus on working within this new reality rather than trying to change it,’ she said.

Sex education and contraception

A rise in education and access to contraception is one reason behind the drop off in the global fertility rate.

Education around pregnancy and contraception has increased, with sex education classes beginning in the US in the 1970s and becoming compulsory in the UK in the 1990s.

‘There is an old adage that ‘education is the best contraception’ and I think that is relevant’ for explaining the decline in birth rates, said Professor Allan Pacey, an andrologist at the University of Sheffield and former chair of the British Fertility Society.

Elina Pradhan, a senior health specialist at the World Bank, suggests that more educated women choose to have fewer children due to concerns about earning less when taking time off before and after giving birth.

In the UK, three in 10 mothers and one in 20 fathers report having to cut back on their working hours due to childcare, according to ONS data.

They may also have more exposure to different ideas on family sizes through school and connections they make during their education, encouraging them to think more critically about the number of children they want, she said.

And more educated women may know more about prenatal care and child health and may have more access to healthcare, Ms Pradhan added.

Professor Jonathan Portes, an economist at King’s College London, said that women’s greater control over their own fertility means ‘households, and women in particular, both want fewer children and are able to do so’.

More women entering the workplace

More women are in the workplace now than they were 50 years ago — 72 vs 52 per cent — which has contributed to the global fertility rate halving over the same time period.

Professor Portes also noted that the drop-off in the birth rate may also be down to the structure of labour and housing markets, expensive childcare and gender roles making it difficult for many women to combine career aspirations with having a family.

The UK Government has ‘implemented the most anti-family policies of any Government in living memory’ by cutting services that support families, along with benefit cuts that ‘deliberately punish low-income families with children’, he added.

As more women have entered the workplace, the age they are starting a family has been pushed back. Data from the ONS shows that the most common age for a women who were born in 1949 to give birth was 22. But women born in 1975, were most likely to have children when they were 31-years-old.

In another sign that late motherhood is on the rise, half of women born in 1990, the most recent cohort to reach 30-years-old, remained childless at 30 — the highest rate recorded.

Women repeatedly point to work-related reasons for putting off having children, with surveys finding that most women want to make their way further up the career ladder before conceiving.

However, the move could be leading to women having fewer children than they planned. In the 1990s, just 6,700 cycles of IVF — a technique to help people with fertility problems to have a baby — took place in the UK annually. But this skyrocketed to more than 69,000 by 2019, suggesting more women are struggling to conceive naturally.

Declining sperm counts

Reproductive experts have also raised the alarm that biological factors, such as falling sperm counts and changes to sexual development, could ‘threaten human survival’.

Dr Shanna Swan, an epidemiologist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, authored a ground-breaking 2017 study that revealed that global sperm counts have dropped by more than half over the past four decades.

She warned that ‘everywhere chemicals’, such as phthalates found in toiletries, food packaging and children’s toys, are to blame. The chemicals cause hormonal imbalance which can trigger ‘reproductive havoc’, she said.

Factors including smoking tobacco and marijuana and rising obesity rates may also play a role, Dr Swan said.

Studies have also pointed to air pollution for dropping fertility rates, suggesting it triggers inflammation which can damage egg and sperm production.

However, Professor Pacey, a sperm quality and fertility expert, said: ‘I really don’t think that any changes in sperm quality are responsible for the decline in birth rates.

‘In fact, I do not believe the current evidence that sperm quality has declined.’

He said: ‘I think a much bigger issue for falling birth rates is the fact that: (a) people are choosing to have fewer children; and (b) they are waiting until they are older to have them.’

Fears about bringing children into the world

Choosing not to have children is cited by some scientists as the best thing a person can do for the planet, compared to cutting energy use, travel and making food choices based on their carbon footprint.

Scientists at Oregon State University calculated that the each child adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the ‘carbon legacy’ of a woman. Each metric ton is equivalent to driving around the world’s circumference.

Experts say the data is discouraging the climate conscious from having babies, while others are opting-out of children due to fears around the world they will grow up in.

Dr Britt Wray, a human and planetary health fellow at Stanford University, said the drop-off in fertility rates was due to a ‘fear of a degraded future due to climate change’.

She was one of the authors behind a Lancet study of 10,000 volunteers, which revealed four in ten young people fear bringing children into the world because of climate concerns.

Professor David Coleman, emeritus professor of demography at Oxford University, told MailOnline that peoples’ decision not to have children is ‘understandable’ due to poor conditions, such as climate change.

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