Death rates in England and Wales have fallen to their lowest recorded level, according to the latest figures.

The highest number of births this century was recorded in 2011, although the rise to 723,913 was only 0.1 per cent up on 2010's figure.

The fertility rate now stands at 1.93 children per woman, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Figures released today show that mortality rates last year were the lowest ever recorded for England and Wales, at 6,236 deaths per million population for males and 4,458 deaths per million population for females.

Cancer accounted for 30 per cent of them, with circulatory diseases, such as heart disease and strokes, the cause of 29 per cent.

But cancer death rates have fallen by 14 per cent for men and 10 per cent for women in the previous decade.

And between 2001 and 2011, the death rates for circulatory diseases fell by 44 per cent to 1,803 deaths per million population for males and 1,110 deaths per million population for females.

Healthier lifestyles and medical advances in the treatment of serious disease were the cause, the ONS said.

The infant mortality rate increased slightly in 2011 from 4.3 deaths per thousand in 2010 to 4.4 per thousand last year.

But looking at the longer term, the ONS said the infant mortality rate had fallen by 60 per cent in the past 30 years.

There were 484,367 deaths registered in England and Wales in 2011 compared with 493,242 in 2010, a fall of 1.8 per cent.

The ONS report stated: “This is the third consecutive year that annual death registrations have been below half a million.

”Before 2009 the last time that death registrations fell below half a million was in 1952.“

Since 2001, when the total fertility rate was at a record low, births have risen for women of all ages apart from the under-20s in the past decade.

”The largest percentage increase in fertility was for women aged 40 and over followed by women aged 35-39 with increases of 61 per cent and 50 per cent respectively,“ the ONS said.

”The number of live births to mothers aged 40 and over has more than quadrupled from 6,860 in 1981 to 29,350 in 2011.“