Dramatic rise in women giving birth at 40-plus

Stigma surrounding older mothers continues to evaporate

Th 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 any other age group of child-bearing women.

While pregnancies among women over 40 still comprise just two 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 eight per cent. But among women under the age of 30, the conception rate fell 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 evaporate, 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 Emma Thompson, the Oscar-winning actress, who had her first child Gaia with her boyfriend Greg Wise, the actor, 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 rose 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 with a national reduction of more than 6 per cent in two years.

"Evidence shows that better education and employment opportunities for teenagers, alongside improved advice and support around sex, relationships and contraception can make a real 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 if we are to meet the target of a 15 per cent reduction in teenage pregnancy rates by 2004."

Lady Winifrid Tumin, chairwoman of the Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy, said: "The latest fall in teenage conception rates is very welcome news and reflects the considerable energy and commitment devoted to implementing the strategy so far.

"It is crucial to recognise that this is a deep-rooted issue within our society for which there are no quick or easy solutions."

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