Dramatic rise in women giving birth at 40-plus

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The number of women giving birth over the age of 40 has almost doubled in 10 years, reflecting the trend for women to delay motherhood until they have developed careers.

The number of women giving birth over the age of 40 has almost doubled in 10 years, reflecting the trend for women to delay motherhood until they have developed careers.

Figures released by National Statistics yesterday showed that 17,000 women over 40 conceived in 2000, compared with 16,000 in 1999 and 9,220 in 1990 in England and Wales.

The increase was among the most dramatic of the 1990s, when conceptions among women aged 40 to 44 rose at a greater rate than for any other age group of child-bearing women.

While pregnancies among women over 40 still comprise only 2 per cent of all live births, they have risen at a faster rate than the 35 to 39 age group, which has seen a 27 per cent increase.

Among women in their early 30s, the pregnancy rate has increased by 8 per cent. But among women under the age of 30, the conception rate fell steeply during the past decade. The steepest drops were 15 per cent for those aged 20 to 24 and 14 per cent for those aged 19 to 25.

The trend illustrates how the stigma surrounding older mothers has continued to disappear, with more and more working women choosing to delay childbirth. An increasing number of childless couples have also become parents at a late age with the help of fertility treatment

High-profile older mothers include the Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson, who had her first child, Gaia, with her boyfriend, the actor Greg Wise, at the age of 40. David Bowie's wife, Iman, had a daughter, Alexandria, at the age of 44 in August 2000.

Yesterday's figures also revealed that pregnancies among older teenagers in England fell for the second year running. Among under-18s, the number of pregnancies fell by 2 per cent from 42,000 in 1999 to 41,300 in 2000. This was part of a total 6.3 per cent drop since 1998.

But there was a slight rise in the rate of conceptions to girls under 16 in England, which increased from 8.2 per 1,000 girls to 8.3 between 1999 and 2000.

The Government aims to reduce teenage pregnancies by 15 per cent by 2004 and has put most effort into reducing the number of under-age girls who become pregnant.

Yvette Cooper, the minister for Public Health, said: "Teenage pregnancies in this country remain too high, but we are now making progress.

"Evidence shows that better education and employment opportunities for teenagers, alongside improved advice and support around sex, relationships and contraception can make a difference in bringing teenage pregnancy rates down.

"We need to build on the progress made so far, and ensure that the teenage pregnancy strategy continues to focus on boys as well as girls."

* Growing doubts over the value of breast screening are causing so much dissension within the medical community that an international study is needed to resolve the issue, The Lancet Oncology, a specialist cancer journal published by The Lancet, says today. Billions of pounds are being spent worldwide on screening programmes to cut deaths from breast cancer, and millions of women are subjected to the discomfort and anxiety of waiting for results and being recalled for follow-up tests. Yet doctors still disagree on the benefits.

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