Scottish mothers have fewer children than other UK women

December 07, 2007

Fertility in Scotland is below that of other countries and regions in the UK. In comparison with their English neighbours, Scottish women leave longer gaps between their children and are more likely to stop at two children. As a result fertility in Scotland is not only below the average required to replace the population (as is the case in many developed countries) but also the lowest in the UK.

The potential causes and key implications of Scotland's low fertility are outlined in a new publication, 'Scotland's demographic trends: insights from Scotland's Demography Research Programme Findings'. This booklet highlights research findings from a two-year research initiative, Scotland's Demography Research Programme, funded jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Scottish Government.

Findings suggest that Scotland's lower fertility is related both to spacing (longer gap between first and second/subsequent children) and stopping (smaller families) behaviour. Scottish women are no more likely than those in England to remain childless and are in fact more likely to give birth to their first child when they are younger than English women. Half of Scottish women have a first birth before 27.42 years, compared with 28.08 years for English women.

However, while half of English women have a second birth within 3.2 years of their first birth, the comparable timescale is 3.5 years for Scottish women. For those having a third child, Scottish women again wait longer than their English equivalents. A quarter of English women have a third birth by 3.3 years after their second birth, compared to 4.1 years in Scotland. In fact, fewer Scottish women have families of three or four children than English women. More Scottish women stop at two children.

New research reveals that Scottish women do not intend to have smaller families. A survey shows that men and women in Scotland would like to have more children than they actually have, with the average ideal family size in the study sample being 2.48 children. Yet, in practice, the average was 1.24 children. "Differences in fertility behaviour may therefore be responses to immediate circumstances rather than longer-term intentions," argues researcher Professor Elspeth Graham.

The study points to several possible factors underlying Scotland's current fertility trend including: The quality of the area in which women live appears to influence fertility decisions. Those who were more negative about their locality were more likely to live in urban than rural areas, and more likely to live in deprived areas. They also expected to have or had fewer children than those who were more positive. Those surveyed stated that certain features - in particular low levels of crime and good schools - were key to making an area a good place to bring up children.

"A range of factors appear to have a bearing on fertility variations in Scotland," concludes researcher Professor Frances Wasoff. "Low fertility in Scotland cannot be attributed in a simplistic way to people holding low fertility aspirations."

"Low fertility is a controversial issue because of its possible implications for population ageing, labour supply and the costs of sustaining health and welfare services," says Professor Ian Diamond, Chief Executive of the ESRC. "Before policymakers can tackle the questions raised by low fertility, they require relevant, high quality evidence. The research undertaken during Scotland's Demography Research Programme, which also examined migration and the impact of an ageing population, makes a valuable contribution to a topic that so clearly deserves our attention."

Launched in 2005, more than 20 researchers based in five academic institutions across Scotland took part in the ESRC/Scottish Government-funded 'Scotland's Demography Research Programme'. A one-day seminar to disseminate key developments and launch the booklet, 'Scotland's demographic trends: insights from Scotland's Demography Research Programme', will be held in the Point Hotel in Edinburgh on 7 December 2007.
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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Alexandra Saxon at ESRC, on 01793 413032 Email: Alexandra.saxon@esrc.ac.uk

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. The two research projects on fertility were undertaken as part of the two-year Scotland's Demography Research Programme - jointly funded by the ESRC and Scottish Government. The two projects on fertility are:

    a. Why is fertility in Scotland lower than in England" - Contact Professor Elspeth Graham, Telephone: 01334 462894 or Email: efg@st-and.ac.uk

    b. Fertility variations in Scotland: socio-cultural attitudes and interactions - Contact Professor Fran Wasoff, Email: fran.wasoff@ed.ac.uk

    The full reports including details of academic references are available on the ESRC Society Today website at: www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

  2. Research highlights from these two projects in fertility are found in the research briefing 'Scotland's demographic trends: insights from Scotland's Demography Research Programme' which contains key findings from six individual research projects, (funded jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Scottish Government) undertaken between 2005 and 2006 on the topics of fertility, ageing and migration. A one-day seminar to disseminate key developments from Scotland's Demography Research Programme will be held in the Point Hotel in Edinburgh on 7 December 2007.

  3. The other four individual research projects are:

    a. Macroeconomic impacts of demographic change in Scotland - Contact Professor Peter McGregor, Telephone: 0141 548 3842 or Email: p.m.mcgregor@strath.ac.uk

    b. Scottish graduate migration and retention: a case study of the University of Edinburgh 2000 - Contact Mr Ross Bond, Telephone: 0131 650 3925 or Email: r.j.bond@ed.ac.uk

    c. Scottish ageing population: microsimulation of the baby boomers - Contact Professor David Bell, Telephone: 01786 467470 or Email: d.n.f.bell@stir.ac.uk

    d. Scottish migration to, and return from, SE England - Contact Professor Allan Findlay, Telephone: 01382 344434 or Email: a.m.findlay@dundee.ac.uk

  4. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research relevant to business, the public sector and voluntary organisations. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2007-08 is £181 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk. Further details on the Scottish Government can be found at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/.

  5. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research (formerly accessible via the Regard website) and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk



Economic & Social Research Council

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