How many babies in the UK are born to foreign parents?

Published: 29th Feb 2012

"Two-thirds of babies born in London have at least one foreign parent"

Daily Telegraph, 22 February 2012 [also in Daily Express and Daily Mail]

"Nationally, one in four babies has a parent born outside the UK, the Office for National Statistics reveal"

The Sun, 22 February 2012

Several newspapers published articles last week about a rise in the proportion of London-born babies to foreign-born parents. The Sun also quoted figures applying to the UK as a whole.

The figures follow the disclosure of figures by the Office for National Statistics thanks to a parliamentary written answer obtained by Nicholas Soames MP.

So what do the figures show?


The parliamentary question from Nicholas Soames was specifically on the figures for London. The answer gave statistics from 2010 for live birth where one or both parents was non-UK born.

In the answer, it is shown that the average proportion of London-born births to at least one foreign born parent is 64.7 per cent - hence the two-thirds figure used by some of the papers. Not all of these, of course, are necessarily to two foreign-born parents.

The borough of Newham having the highest proportion of children throughout the capital born to non-UK born parents, at 84.1 per cent. The borough of Havering had the smallest proportion at 24.4 per cent.

The Sun also made a comparison to the national picture as a whole. That data came from a separate ONS document on parents' country of birth in England and Wales, providing data for 2010.

This showed, however, that the national picture contrasts strongly with London's. The dataset attached to the publication provides a detailed breakdown of the parents of the live births. The numbers and proportions are shown below:

The ONS headline figure is that 25.1 per cent of UK live births were to mothers born outside the UK, which adds the 17.7, 6.3 and 1.1 per cent figures shown in the table that confirm a foreign-born mother.

The Sun, however, reported that "nationally, one in four babies has a parent born outside the UK". In fact, looking at the figures shows this is a somewhat conservative statement.

Adding together the 17.7 per cent with two foreign-born parents, the 6.3 and 1.1 per cent with a foreign-born mother and the 5.7 per cent with a foreign-born father gives 30.8 per cent of live births with at least one foreign-born parent.

In any case, this is a far smaller proportion than the two-thirds of those born in London to foreign-born parents in 2010.


The ONS data on London indeed shows that the majority of live births are to foreign-born parents. This peaks at 84 per cent in Newham and averages overall at around 65 per cent.

However, the story for the whole of the UK is somewhat different, with around 30 per cent of all births to foreign-born parents, demonstrating that London's figures are unusually high compared to the rest of the country.

The Sun's reporting that one in four babies nationally does not appear to be correct. The data shows this figure applies to mothers, when in fact considering fathers as well makes the proportion somewhat higher.


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