Women are embracing motherhood later in life than ever. Births to women over 40 rose to almost 30,000 last year, three times higher than in 1991.

While the birth rate among the over-40s rose last year by 6.7 per cent, for the under-20s it fell by 8.7 per cent. The trend has been continuing since the mid-1970s. The average age at which women have children is now a few months short of 30.

The Office for National Statistics, which published the figures, said the reasons included women staying on in higher education, establishing careers, getting on the housing ladder and "ensuring financial stability" before starting a family.

Obstetricians have warned that fertility declines sharply after 35.

Overall the number of births is rising – up 22 per cent in the past decade to almost 724,000 in 2011 in England and Wales. Deaths are on a downward trend at 484,367 in 2011, the third consecutive year in which they have been below half a million.