English fertility heads south: understanding the recent decline

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

October 5, 2021


Background: Fertility in England fell substantially during the past decade. The total fertility rate reached its historically lowest level in 2020.

Objective: To improve our understanding of the decline in English fertility by using data on individual women during 2009–2020 from Understanding Society, which is a panel survey of the members of approximately 40,000 households.

Methods: Estimation of a model of age and parity-specific birth rates on individual data, including year-effects, and cross-validation of it with external sources from registration data. Translation of the parameter estimates into more easily interpreted concepts such as period parity progression ratios and the total fertility rate (along with the standard errors for each).

Results: The decline in first-birth rates appears to be primarily responsible for the decline in the TFR during the past decade, and women with an education below degree level experienced a larger fertility decline.

Conclusions: If recent period fertility patterns are sustained, England is embarking on a regime of a high level of childlessness not seen since that among women born in the early 1920s.

Contribution: Individual-level panel data is used to estimate a model of parity-specific birth rates, which is cross-validated against registration data and used to provide insights into what lies behind the recent decline in English fertility.

Published in

Demographic Research

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 45 , p.903 -916







Open Access

This open-access work is published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Germany (CC BY 3.0 DE), which permits use, reproduction, and distribution in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are given credit. See https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/legalcode.

© 2021 John Ermisch.



Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest