1.3 a minute:

Mapping conceptions and abortions in England and Wales using the latest national statistics

On average, 1,914 babies are born in England and Wales every day – 1.3 a minute. We examined conceptions, births, and abortions using the freshest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to identify possible trends.

We'll start our journey through the world of fertility facts at the top level – by looking at how the U.K.'s birth rate compares with other nations' rates. Then, step by step, we'll zoom in on England and Wales to explore how conception and abortion rates differ by region, age, and marital status.

We made the map and tables above using data from The World Bank, which collects statistics on the development of countries around with the world with the goal of reducing their levels of poverty. This data makes clear the correlation between poverty and birth rate as 41 of the 50 countries with the highest birth rates are in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region where 46.8% of the population live on less than $1.25 per day. Niger, the country with the highest birth rate in 2013, is – according to the UN's Human Development Index – officially the poorest place on earth, but women there are having children at a higher rate than women anywhere else. On average, 7.6 children per woman are born in Niger – four times more than in the U.K. The U.K. sits about two-thirds of the way down the list of nations included in The World Bank's birth rate rankings, with 12.2 births per thousand people, a few places below the United States, which has 12.5.

Ireland, a predominantly rural country (about 70% of its population lives outside cities), had the highest birth rate in the EU in 2013, at 15.0 births per thousand people. As for the lowest, two countries (actually, a country and a special administrative region) shared a rate of 7.9: Portugal and Hong Kong.

The explanation for Hong Kong's plummeting birth rate, which has fallen from five children per woman in 1960 to 1.1 in 2013, could be due to population density: According to Bloomberg, it will be the most crowded city in 2025, with a population density more than double that of Salvador, Brazil, which is predicted to sit in second place.

Let's zoom in another level and look at how conceptions and abortions by all women were distributed across England and Wales in 2013.

A conception can lead to one of a few different outcomes, mainly: maternity (a live- or stillbirth) or an abortion under the Abortion Act of 1967. The maps above show how the rates of conceptions and abortions by women aged 15–44 differed across England and Wales in 2013 (the most recent year for which data are available). The maps look almost identical: London has the highest rates of both conceptions and abortions, at 85.2 and 22.8 per 1,000 women respectively, while the North East has the lowest conception rate (70.6) and South West the lowest abortion rate (13.3). The overall conception rate in England fell by 1.0% from 2012 to 2013, and by 1.6% in Wales – although in almost all regions, conceptions were higher in 2013 than in 2003.

Given that London has the highest rates of conceptions, it deserves a closer inspection.

The Borough of Barking and Dagenham had the highest conception rate in London (and the whole of England and Wales) in 2013. The London borough with the lowest conception rate was Camden (61.1 per 1,000 women versus Barking and Dagenham's 111.8). These figures are for women aged 15–44, but the Office of National Statistics also tracks in more detail the ages of women who have conceived.

Here is where we begin to get a much clearer picture of how conception rates are changing in England and Wales.

Key Points:

  • Generally speaking, women are waiting longer to have children.
  • Conception rates for women under 20 years old and 20 to 24 fell by 8.4% and 4.3% respectively from 2012 to 2013.
  • The under-18 conception rate in 2013 decreased 12% from 2012. It is now at an all-time low.

On the right, we can see how teenage conception rates have been falling in recent years.

Key Points:

  • Conceptions by under-16-year-olds fell by 14% between 2012 and 2013.
  • Despite falling, the U.K.'s rate of teenage conceptions was only lower than three of the 27 other countries in the EU in 2012.

Let's stay with teenagers for a moment to see where in England and Wales conceptions by under-18-year-olds have been highest and lowest.

The North East had the lowest conception rate in England and Wales in 2013 for women aged 15–44, but the highest for women aged under 18, at 30.6 (the national average is 24.5). In London, which as a region had a rate of 21.8 (a bit lower than the national average), the Borough of Barking and Dagenham once more ranked highest, at 40.1 conceptions per 1,000 women aged 15–17. Westminster had the lowest rate, at 9.6, which was more than three times lower than that of the North East and about half that of the South East, the region London neighbours.

So far we've focused on specific locations in London but only looked at the rest of England and Wales at the regional level. Let's zoom in further to see which places outside London have had the highest and lowest rates.

We've ranked conception rates for women aged 15–44 twice above, including and excluding London. We can see that when the frequently high-ranking London boroughs are removed, Luton UA (Urban Area) ranks highest, with 100.2 conceptions per 1,000 women. With London locations included, Luton is third. The lists look a bit different when we change the metric from conceptions to abortions though.

The tables above rank locations (again, including and excluding London) by the percentage of conceptions that led to abortions. By this measure, five of the locations with the highest rates are clustered in the North West, around Liverpool, which itself had the highest percentage of abortions in 2013 when London is excluded. Including the London boroughs changes everything, though – every one of the 10 highest are within Greater London, with Lambeth ranking highest. Let's see if the same pattern applies to teenage conceptions and abortions.

Stoke-on-Trent had the highest rate of conceptions by under-18-year-olds in 2013 (43.9 per 1,000 women aged 15–17), even including London boroughs. Leicester/Rutland UA had the lowest rate, at 9.2, which is more than four times smaller than Stoke's figure. When we include London in the rankings, the list of highest rates doesn't change very much, except for the inclusion of Barking and Dagenham at No. 7. The list of lowest rates changes a bit more, with the addition of four London boroughs.

As well as regional trends, the ONS's data give us an insight into the demographic characteristics of women who become pregnant in England and Wales.

There has been an unmistakable long-term rise in the number of conceptions occurring outside marriages/civil partnerships.

In 1993, 45% took place outside a marriage. By 2003, that figure had risen to 55%, and by 2013, it reached 57%.

There is also a significant difference between the number of abortions that occur inside and outside marriage, as the graph below shows.

In 2013, 81% of abortions conducted were for single (non-married) women. That number has gradually increased since 2003, when it was 76%. The abortion rate in 2013 was highest for women aged 22, at 30 per 1,000, compared with 15.9 for women aged 15–44.

The proportion of women who have had more than one abortion has risen from 32% in 2003 to 37% in 2013. Overall, when the age of women is accounted for, the rate of abortions in 2013 was lower than in any other year since 1997.

The latest figures from the ONS have revealed some important findings about conceptions and abortions in England and Wales. Possibly the most consequential is the fact that the conception rate for under-18s is at its lowest rate since 1969, whereas the conception rate for all other age groups gradually increased from 2001 to 2010, before dipping slightly in the last few years. It's sure to continue to change too as women's priorities shift between their careers and families and inward migration rises and falls.


Superdrug Online Doctors commissioned us (Fractl) to investigate changes in the UK birth rate. This research is intended primarily to inform and entertain.

World Birth Rates http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.CBRT.IN
Sub-Saharan Africa poverty http://data.worldbank.org/topic/poverty
Niger, poorest place http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21612239-runaway-birth-rates-are-disasterpopulation-explosion
ONS 2013 Conceptions http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=tcm%3A77-348338
Rural Ireland http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/ireland-has-highest-birth-rate-in-the-eu-1.1553211
Hong Kong birth rate http://www.citymetric.com/horizons/hong-kong-s-low-birth-rate-blamed-women-s-sexualproblems-343
ONS 2013 abortions https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/abortion-statistics-england-and-wales-2013
London deprivation http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/london/child-poverty-in-london-the-facts/poverty-in-yourarea-13/
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