I’m sure there are many things that might trigger a rise in the birth rate – but consider these particular influencing factors for post-war Britain:
- couples were finally able to celebrate the end of six years of war
- wives and girlfriends could welcome the return of a loved one from the horrors at the front
- British women had a chance to meet and marry a military man from the US or Canada who had come to Britain to help the Allied Forces.
Perhaps it was not surprising, therefore, to see the UK birth rate jump from around 795,000 in 1945 to over 955,000 in 1946. Quite a rise! But that wasn’t the real height, perhaps because there was a lag in the timing of demobbing, with some military men not arriving home until well into 1946. And so we see a further leap in numbers in 1947 to well over one million.
Babies born during the war years had to experience all the difficulties that their parents were experiencing – from rationing of food to losing their home – as the photo above shows.
But even after the war, the increase in the numbers of children would, in turn, lead to a number of problems. The housing crisis was already one of the greatest issues to trouble families and with more children to care for, having an appropriate home to live in was even more of a priority. Then, five years on, the education sector would start to be stretched to the limit, with class sizes needing to increase. As I mentioned in my previous post, schools were already experiencing problems because of the lack of suitable buildings and a shortage of teachers. Now there were even more children to factor into the mix.
However, although lots of babies were being born, the average family size remained around 2.4, despite the limitations and inaccessibility of family planning support or modern day contraception. It wouldn’t be until the 1960s that the contraceptive pill made family planning more of a reality, of which more in later posts.