For the first time since records began, more babies were born out of wedlock in England and Wales in 2021.
New statistics reveal the number born to mothers who were unmarried or not in a civil partnership has overtaken the number being born to mothers in such relationships.
However, the count coincided with the COVID-19 lockdown, when weddings and civil partnership ceremonies were not allowed.
There were 624,828 live births registered in England and Wales in 2021, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
This includes 320,713 live births to women who were not married or in a civil partnership when they delivered – 51.3% of the total – compared to 304,115 live births to parents who were married or civilly partnered.
It is the first time since counting such statistics began in 1845.
Dr James Tucker, head of health analysis at the ONS, said the figures followed a “long-term trend of declining marriage rates and increasing numbers of cohabiting couples seen in recent decades.
“However, caution should be taken in interpreting today’s numbers, as we don’t yet know the full impact of the pandemic on marriage and civil partnership statistics.”
The figures also show the fertility rate rose for the first time since 2012 – to 1.61 children per woman in 2021 from 1.58 in 2020.
The 2021 rate still remained below that of 2019.
The 624,828 live births registered in 2021 was a rise of 1.8% from 2020.
It is the first annual increase in live births since 2015, although this remains below the number of births registered in 2019.
And the latest year “remains in line” with the long-term trend of falling live births since before the coronavirus pandemic, the ONS said.
The ONS figures are based on birth registrations, and delays mean some births in 2021 may not be covered.
It follows provisional data, based on NHS births notifications data, published by the ONS in March.
Within the overall increase in fertility, rates fell among younger groups and rose in older women.
The largest decrease was among women and girls under 20 years old (16%), while women aged 35 to 39 saw fertility rates increase by 5%.
Fertility rates increased across all regions of England in 2021, except for London and the West Midlands.
The figures also show there were 2,597 stillbirths in 2021, an increase of 226 from 2020.