Background: The link between maternal factors and birth outcomes is well established. Substantial changes in society and medical care over time have influenced women's reproductive choices and health, subsequently affecting birth outcomes. The objective of this study was to describe temporal changes in key maternal and fetal factors affecting birth outcomes in Newcastle upon Tyne over three decades, 1961-1992. Methods: For these descriptive analyses we used data from a population-based birth record database constructed for the historical cohort Particulate Matter and Perinatal Events Research (PAMPER) study. The PAMPER database was created using details from paper-based hospital delivery and neonatal records for all births during 1961-1992 to mothers resident in Newcastle (out of a total of 109,086 singleton births, 97,809 hospital births with relevant information). In addition to hospital records, we used other sources for data collection on births not included in the delivery and neonatal records, for death and stillbirth registrations and for validation. Results: The average family size decreased mainly due to a decline in the proportion of families with 3 or more children. The distribution of mean maternal ages in all and in primiparous women was lowest in the mid 1970s, corresponding to a peak in the proportion of teenage mothers. The proportion of older mothers declined until the late 1970s (from 16.5% to 3.4%) followed by a steady increase. Mean birthweight in all and term babies gradually increased from the mid 1970s. The increase in the percentage of preterm birth paralleled a two-fold increase in the percentage of caesarean section among preterm births during the last two decades. The gap between the most affluent and the most deprived groups of the population widened over the three decades. Conclusion: Key maternal and fetal factors affecting birth outcomes, such as maternal age, parity, socioeconomic status, birthweight and gestational age, changed substantially during the 32-year period, from 1961 to 1992. The availability of accurate gestational age is extremely important for correct interpretation of trends in birthweight. Â© 2008 Glinianaia et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.