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More deaths than births in UK for first time in nearly 50 years

A greater number of deaths were registered in the UK in 2020 than in any year since the First World War.

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The latest ONS estimate for the size of the UK population is 67.1 million (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The latest ONS estimate for the size of the UK population is 67.1 million (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The latest ONS estimate for the size of the UK population is 67.1 million (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

More deaths than births took place in the UK last year for the first time in nearly half a century, figures suggest.

A total of 689,629 deaths were registered in 2020, while 683,191 live births were recorded.

This means that natural change in the UK – the difference between births and deaths – was a negative figure of 6,438.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

It is the first time deaths have exceeded births since 1976, according to provisional figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It is also only the second time this has happened since the start of the 20th century.

The Covid-19 pandemic meant that more deaths were registered in the UK in 2020 than in any year since the First World War, the ONS said.

This increase in deaths, combined with decreasing numbers of births, caused the rate of natural change to be negative.

But it does not mean the total population size of the UK declined in 2020, as migration may have led to an overall growth in numbers, thanks to more people moving into the country than leaving it, the ONS said.

The latest ONS estimate for the size of the UK population is 67.1 million as of mid-2020, up by 284,000 or 0.4% from 66.8 million in mid-2019.

The balance between births and deaths in 2020 was not the same across the four nations of the UK, the figures show.

In England there were slightly more births (585,704) than deaths (569,700), which was also the case in Northern Ireland (20,825 births and 17,614 deaths).

But in Scotland there were more deaths (64,093) than births (46,809), and in Wales (37,399 deaths versus 28,661 births).

Scotland has seen more deaths than births each year since 2015, while in Wales it has happened each year since 2016.

In England and Northern Ireland, the difference between the numbers of births and deaths has been decreasing in recent years – and in 2020 it was small enough to mean the UK as a whole saw more deaths than births.

The last time this happened was in 1976, which saw a total of 675,526 births and 680,799 deaths.

This was more to do with a substantial drop in the number of live births rather than a sharp rise in deaths, however.

Live births in the UK have been dropping since the mid-1960s, prompted by more widespread availability of contraception and the legalisation in 1967 of abortion in Britain.

By 1976 the number of births was a third lower than the one million recorded in 1964, and would sink even further in 1977 to the lowest level since the 19th century.

Births then began to increase once more, topping 700,000 in 1979 and remaining above this level in every year except 1999-2003 and 2020.

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