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Recent Trends in Australian Fertility

Staff working paper

This paper by Ralph Lattimore and Clinton Pobke was released on 5 August 2008.

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  • Key points
  • Contents
  • Births in Australia are at an historical high - with around 285 000 babies born in 2007. This corresponds to an estimated total fertility rate of 1.93 babies per woman, the highest since the early 1980s.
    • This is not a one-off event as fertility rates have been generally rising for the last 6 years. Overall, the evidence suggests that after its long downward trend after the Second World War, Australia's fertility rate may have stabilised at around 1.75 to 1.9 babies per woman.
  • Much of the recent increase in the fertility rate is likely to reflect the fact that over the last few decades, younger women postponed childbearing and many are now having these postponed babies (so-called 'recuperation'). This has shown up as higher fertility rates for older women.
  • However, some of the increase is also likely to be due to a 'quantum' effect - an increase in the number of babies women will ultimately have over their lifetimes. For example, today's young women say they are expecting to have more babies over their lifetime than those five years ago.
  • Rising fertility reflects several factors:
    • Buoyant economic conditions and greater access to part-time jobs have reduced the financial risks associated with childbearing and lowered the costs associated with exiting and re-entering the labour market.
    • With more flexible work arrangements, women today are more able to combine participation in the labour force with childrearing roles.
    • A recent increase in the generosity of family benefits (such as family tax benefit A and the 'baby bonus'), though not targeted at fertility, is also likely to have played a part. However, that role has probably only been a modest one. Family policies are more powerful in providing income support, improving child and parental welfare, and serving other social goals than in affecting fertility rates.
  • Overall, Australia appears to be in a 'safe zone' of fertility, despite fertility levels being below replacement levels. There is no fertility crisis.
    • Australia's population should continue to grow at one of the highest rates in the developed world because of migrant inflows.
    • Feasibly attainable increases in fertility would not significantly allay ageing of the population, nor address its fiscal and labour market challenges.

Background Information

Ralph Lattimore (Assistant Commissioner) 02 6240 3242

  • Preliminaries
    Cover, Copyright, Foreword, Acknowledgments, Contents and Abbreviations & explanations.
  • Overview
  • Chapter 1 Introduction
  • Chapter 2 What has been happening recently?
    2.1 Trends in births
    2.2 Trends in fertility
    2.3 Measurement errors in the fertility statistics
    2.4 A quantum effect or only the end of postponement?
    2.5 Parity data
    2.6 Age of mothers
    2.7 Changes to age-specific fertility rates
    2.8 What do other data on age-specific fertility rates show?
    2.9 Longitudinal evidence
    2.10 The increase in fertility and the slowing of postponement are not independent
  • Chapter 3 What has caused the increase in fertility?
    3.1 Prosperity and fertility
    3.2 House prices and rents
    3.3 Cost and availability of child care
    3.4 The effect of the policy environment on fertility
    3.5 Summary of the likely causes of the upturn in fertility
  • Chapter 4 Do we need to be worried by Australian fertility levels?
    4.1 Demographic impacts
    4.2 The social impacts of low fertility
    4.3 Impacts on the economy
    4.4 Putting Australia's demographic future into a global context
    4.5 Conclusion
  • Appendix A Linear interpolation method
  • Appendix B International Fertility Trends
  • Appendix C The impact of income on fertility
  • Appendix D The generosity of family policy
  • Appendix E International studies of the impacts of family policies on fertility
  • Appendix F Has the Baby Bonus changed the patterns of birth by age?
  • Appendix G Fertility intentions
  • Appendix H Tempo effects
  • References

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