Family and Health: Big increase in women over 35 having babies

THERE HAS been a sharp increase in the number of women over 35 having children, and in the number of babies born to unmarried parents.

Between 1981 and 1991, the fertility rate among women aged 35-39 in England and Wales rose by nearly a half. For women aged 30 to 34, there was a rise of nearly a quarter. There has been an increase in fertility rates for women over 40 but this shows some regional bias. In London, the rate has nearly doubled to 10 live births per 1,000 women. It has fallen slightly in Northern Ireland.

Live births outside marriage now account for one in three births - a reflection of changing social attitudes and also of the recession.

Marriage itself continues its historic decline. Twenty thousand fewer couples were married in 1990 than in 1981. Most seem set on having a large, healthy family.

There has been a nearly 10 per cent decline in the number of smokers, a pattern across the regions. But the nation's drinking habits show greater regional variation. The North has the largest percentage of those who drink more than the Government's recommended safe levels, and East Anglia the lowest. It is not clear whether the British are allowing health to interfere with eating habits. There has been a nationwide decline in the consumption of meat - a reflection of increasing prices more than vegetarianism. All regions (except Wales) have increased the volume of fruit eaten, but there has also been a drop in every region in the quantity of vegetables consumed.

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