The birth rate of a country refers to the number of live births per thousand of the population per year. The general trend for the UK is that there has been a decline in the birth rate since 1900 however there have been fluctuations in the rate due e.g. After World War 1 & 2 and in the 1960s. Sociologists believe this is because of four major factors: changes in gender roles, falling infant mortality, children being seen as an economic burden and our society becoming more child centred. A main part of the decline can be explained in terms of women simply choosing to have fewer children. As the position of women in society has changed overtime, they have chosen to delay childbearing and to limit the number of children they are having because of several factors. Women now have equality with men because of the Equality Act 2010 as well as receiving increased educational and employment opportunities.
Other ways in which women’s position has changed is that there is now easier access to divorce, contraception and abortion meaning that they can avoid unwanted pregnancy so have full choice over when they have a child. Beck and Back-Gernsheim(1995) said that the changes in the birth and fertility rate are due to individualisation meaning that people have more choice to follow their own norms and values as well as making their own decisions, rather the following what society deems acceptable. Also the falling infant mortality rate (number of children dying before their first birthday per thousand of live births) has fallen dramatically as a result of factors such as better living standards, improved hygiene and sanitation, improvements to healthcare and the developments made to the welfare state. Geographers explain that these circumstances lead to a demographic revolution in which birth and fertility fall because women no longer feel they need to have a large number of children to protect against the risk of infant mortality.
It is clear that the attitudes towards children have changed and society in general has become more child-centred, meaning that we are now more concerned about the welfare of children than in the past. The social norms about childcare have changed significantly and the time and costs involved in raising children have significantly increased, therefore making a large family economically unattractive. In the early 19th century children were often seen as an economic asset because they were able to work and contribute towards the family income at a relatively young age however nowadays legislation has banned children from working and has also increased the time that children have to stay in education for..Because of this, children are financially dependent on their parents for longer so are seen more as an economic burden rather than an asset. As well as this, due to the improvement of the welfare provision for the elderly, parents no longer need to worry as much about having large amounts of children to look after them once they are elderly.
Since people are now having fewer children, the dependency ratio, along with the birth rate has decreased meaning that there are fewer dependents within the population leading to less childcare and school services needed. Although there has been a decline in the birth rate, the amount of deaths occurring in the UK remains steady and the death rate is decreasing because of the growing population since 1900. The death rate refers to the number of people dying per thousand of the population per year. The average life expectancy is now around 78 years for men and 82 years for women whereas in 1900 it was 45 years for men and 48 for women. This tells us that people are staying healthier for longer and this is because of a number of factors including: improved nutrition and living standards, developments in medicine and improved government provisions of welfare and health. It has been said that over half the decline is the death rate is due to the decrease of infectious diseases and McKeown(1972) argues that most of the fall in the death rate took place before immunisation and was based mainly on good nutrition and hygiene.
Studies by Rowntree and others (1899, 1950) found a rapid decline in absolute poverty meaning that people have better living standards which have allowed significant improvements to diet that help increase resistance to some infectious diseases Medical knowledge has improved dramatically since 1900 because of the establishment of the NHS in 1949 as well as a better knowledge of antibiotics, surgery, treatment and immunisation which have helped decrease the death rate. The government also continues to make provisions for those who need it e.g. EMA, careers allowance, working class credits which allow people to have a better quality of life.
After the Beveridge Report of 1944, the range of welfare provisions available has expanded and become more universally available. It provided protection against risk factors such as old age through pensions, and low income through housing benefits, unemployment benefit and the benefit now called income support. There are many of other factors involved in the decrease of the death rate including that there are a lot less dangerous occupations available to people e.g. mining and factory working as well as having higher incomes meaning that people are able to afford better foods and medicines which contribute to the health and wellbeing of individuals.
It is evident that even as the population of the UK increases, the death rate and birth rate are both decreasing. These are both because of a number of factors however the most important for both seem to be the improvement of medical knowledge and practices which stop people from becoming ill and include important things such as medicines, contraception and support services for those who become pregnant or suffer with diseases.