BIRTHS in Scotland have plummeted to a historic low as couples start families later in the face of economic uncertainty.

Provisional figures show there were 13,077 births registered in Scotland between July 1 and September 30, 2018.

This takes the quarter three total to its lowest level since civil registration began in 1855.

And with relatively few births recorded earlier in the year, 2018's rate is on course to be the lowest on record.

Elsewhere, there were 12,625 deaths recorded between July and September 30.

Anne Slater, the Registrar General for Scotland, said: “Numbers of both births and deaths were lower than the recent average for this time of year, although the fall in birth numbers is more pronounced.

“Continuing the downward trend since 2008, the number of births for the third quarter of 2018 is now the lowest number recorded since civil registration began.”

Quarter three is usually the time of year when the highest number of births are recorded.

Births between July and the end of September fell to a previous low of around 13,200 in 2001, before rising to around 15,500 in 2008 and then falling again in more recent years.

Officials said there is “no single reason” for the fall in births, but said possible causes may include couples putting off starting a family until later in life – meaning women tend to have fewer children.

Economic uncertainty could also be influencing decisions around childbearing, they said, particularly given the beginning of the recent fall coincided with the financial crash a decade ago.

Marriages fell to 10,118, hitting their lowest level for the third quarter since 1943.

Expressed as a rate, there were 9.6 births per 1,000 population, compared with the recent high of 11.9 births per 1,000 population for quarter three of 2008.

Meanwhile, at 12,625, the number of deaths registered was 4.2 per cent lower than in the same period of 2017.

In the third quarter of 2018, deaths from heart disease were down 11.8% on the same period in 2017, while cancer deaths were down 1.3% and those caused by dementia and Alzheimer's disease fell 5.2%.

Compared to the quarter three average for the past five years, deaths have dropped 2%.

The latest statistics also show life expectancy varies by as much as 7.2 years between council areas in Scotland.

It is highest in East Renfrewshire, where males born in 2015-2017 can expect to live for 80.5 years and females for 83.7 years.

Life expectancy is lowest in Glasgow, where males born in 2015-2017 can expect to live for 73.3 years and females for 78.7 years.

Average life expectancy at birth for all of Scotland was 77 years for males and 81.1 years for females.

Deprivation is strongly linked to life expectancy. In 2015-2017, males born in the 10% most deprived areas in Scotland could expect to die 13 years earlier than those in the 10% least deprived.

Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said how long someone lives shouldn’t be determined by their postcode.

She said: “But, as we learned earlier this week, too many people in our poorest communities are dying prematurely from preventable diseases.

“The Scottish Government has failed to make life better for the most vulnerable people in our communities.

“Scottish Labour would end austerity and make sure people have access to local health services that meet their needs."