England, Wales see biggest drop in births in 40 years

A Transport of London badge created to mark the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, on March 20, 2013 (AFP Photo/Chris Radburn)

London (AFP) - The number of babies born in England and Wales showed the biggest drop in 2013 for nearly 40 years, official statistics show, hit by an uncertain economic outlook and changes to the welfare system.

The fall marked a departure from previous years, as birth numbers have risen annually since 2001 except for a slight fall in 2009.

The decline could be influenced by "uncertainty about employment and lower career and promotion opportunities" and government changes to the welfare system, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday.

The 4.3 percent decrease in live births between 2013 and 2012 was the biggest annual fall since 1975.

Over a quarter of live births -- 26.5 percent compared to 25.9 percent the previous year -- were by mothers who were born outside Britain.

The average age of motherhood reached 30 for the first time since records began in 1938.

Nearly half of all babies were born outside marriage or a civil partnership, a percentage that has been rising over the long-term.

Figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland are published separately.