Current Issues Brief no. 1 2003-04
Fertility: A baby bounce for Australia?
16 July 2003
Some key facts
Reasons for the baby boom
Reasons for the baby bust
A baby bounce is unlikely
Australia has had a baby boom and a baby bust.
Are we likely to have a baby bounce? A bounce would be an increase
in the average number of babies women have in their lifetime (the
The number of babies born in a year is a reflection of the
number of women in child bearing ages and the average number of
babies they bear at each age in the same year. The Total Fertility
Rate (referred to as the fertility rate in this note) summarises
this latter information in terms of the average number of babies
expected to be borne by a woman in her lifetime.
The fertility expectations of women aged 2024
in 1976 equated with an average of 2.3 children, the same as twenty
years later in 199697.(1) The actual fertility rates
were less2.1 in 1976 and 1.8 in 1997.(2)
The fertility rate has reached 1.7 babies per
woman for Australia as a whole, 1.6 in Adelaide, Perth and Canberra
and 1.5 in Melbourne.(3)
The fertility rate fell from about 6 babies per
woman in the mid-nineteenth century(4) to 3.9 in
1901.(5) After a slight rise, probably a catch-up of
births postponed during the 1890s Depression, it subsequently
declined to 3.1 by 1921 and, associated with the Great Depression,
to 2.1 in 1934. After this it increased to a high of 3.5 in 1961
before commencing the decline to the current
While 48 per cent of babies in 2001 were born
to women 30 years and older, up from 30 per cent in 1961, fertility
at all ages is now lower than in 1961.(7)
On current rates about 24 per cent of young
women will have no children, 21 per cent will have one, 27 per cent
two, 18 per cent three, 6 per cent four and 4 per cent five or
To replace each generation an average of 2.1
babies per woman is required given current mortality rates.
The reason why births still outnumber deaths
(there were 246 000 births and 129 000 deaths registered
in 2001) despite a below replacement level fertility rate of 1.7
babies per woman is that there is a large number of women in the
child bearing agesthe daughters of the baby boomers. Deaths are
projected to outnumber births sometime between the years 2033 and
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Year
Book Australia (Catalogue no. 1301.0) 2003, p. 125.
The number of women between 2039, who between
them accounted for 95 per cent of fertility in 2001, is projected
to be relatively constant over the next 50 years at about 2.93.0
A change of 0.1 in Australia's fertility rate
over the whole of the next 50 years would mean a population change
of about one million.(11)
The decline in fertility is the major reason
for the ageing of the population given that immigration has only a
marginal impact on the age structure of the Australian
The 1935 to 1961 increase in the fertility
rate included the post-World War II baby boom. The reasons that
have been advanced for the baby boom include:(13)
the catch-up of births postponed during the
Great Depression and World War II
a marriage boom encompassing a reduction in the
average age at first marriage of women and an increase in the
proportion of women marrying. More than three-quarters of the 'baby
boom' has been attributed to the 'marriage boom'
the effects of the post-war acceleration in net
international migration which was highly selective of young adults,
reduced involuntary childlessness due to
increased knowledge of sub-fecundity and medical treatment of
The reasons that have been advanced for the
decline in the fertility rate from the 1961 level of 3.5 to the
current level of 1.7 include:(14)
introduction of the oral conceptive pill in
availability of abortion, effectively on
request, following a reinterpretation of abortion law in 1971. This
had a particular impact on young women's
increasing job insecurity, and
increasing participation of women in higher
education and the labour force. Women increased their participation
in the labour force from 37 per cent in 1971 to 55 per cent in
For women seeking full-time paid employment
there are difficulties in gaining recognition and promotion while
taking long periods off to give birth and look after young children
as well as undertaking the majority of
In the last 20 years the USA and Sweden have
experienced baby bounces although also followed by subsequent
In the USA the fertility rate went from 1.8 in
19801985 to 2.1 in 19901995.(18) The increase has been
attributed to the very large inflow of migrants from Mexico. The
relatively high level of fertility in the USA also reflects high
teenage fertility and access to cheap child care arising from the
wage structure and probably also illegal
In Sweden, the fertility rate went from 1.7 in
19801985 to 2.0 in 19901995 associated with provision of day care
for small children and paid paternal leave.(20)
The support of women who wish to be involved
in the labour force and have children appears to have a major
impact on fertility rates. In Northern Europe there is generally
greater government support of child care facilities, facilitation
of temporary movement out of the labour force and participation by
husbands in domestic tasks than in Southern Europe and Japan. This
is reflected in Northern Europe's fertility rate of 1.7 while the
more patriarchal Southern Europe and Japan have a rate of
If the Southern European and Japanese rate is
to be avoided and the aspirations of young women in Australia for
more than 1.7 children on average are to be achieved, then policies
are needed to give explicit recognition that children are valuable
to the whole society, not just to their parents.(22)
What are the prospects of an increase in
Indicators of an increase in fertility would be an increase in
age-specific first marriage rates (69 per cent of births were to
women in a registered marriage in 2001) and/or fertility rates for
First marriage rates are in decline. The decline in these rates
for women under 30 years is not matched by the increase for those
30 years and older.(23)
The age-specific fertility rates for women
aged 1524 years (and 4044 years) showed a very minor increase in
2001. Because the 1524 year age group contributed only 22 per cent
to fertility in 2001, this was not enough to break the overall
downward trend in fertility.(24)
Despite the expressed wish of young women for 2.3 children on
average, because of the trend towards fewer first marriages, a baby
bounce is unlikely in the near future. The decline in Australian
fertility is likely to continue as illustrated by women in
Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra already having a fertility
rate below the current Australia-wide rate of 1.7 babies per
Given stabilisation of fertility in the long-term, the level of
fertility reached will reflect the environment created for
families, and women in the labour force in particular, to have
Australian Bureau of Statistics,
Year Book Australia, ABS (Catalogue No. 1301.0), 1979,
p. 91; Gordon A. Carmichael, and Peter McDonald, 'Fertility
Trends and Differentials', The Transformation of Australia's
Population: 19702030 eds, Siew-Ean Khoo and Peter McDonald,
UNSW Press, Sydney, 2003, p. 50.
Australia (Catalogue No. 3301.0) 2001, p. 45.
ibid., pp. 4849.
Graeme Hugo, Australia's
Changing Population, Oxford University Press, Melbourne 1986,
ABS, Year Book
Australia, op. cit., 2003, p. 126.
Australia, op. cit., 2001, pp. 4445.
Australian Historical Population
Statistics4. Births ABS. (Catalogue No. 3105.0.65.001), Table
Derived from ABS, Births,
Australia, op. cit., 2000, p. 42.
Australian Bureau of Statistics,
Population Projections, Australia (Catalogue No.
3222.0), 19992101, p. 7.
Australia, op. cit., 2001, p. 46; Australian
Bureau of Statistics, Population Projections,
Australia, (Catalogue No. 3222.0), 19992101,
- ABS, Population Projections,
Australia, ibid., p. 36.
ibid., p. 8.
Graeme Hugo, op. cit.,
- John C. Caldwell, Pat Caldwell and Peter McDonald, 'Policy
Responses to Low Fertility and its Consequences: A Global Survey',
Journal of Population Research, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2002,
- Gordon A. Carmichael, "Things Ain't What They Used to be!",
Demography, Mental Cohorts, Morality and Values in Post-War
Australia'. Journal of the Australian Population
Association Vol. 15, No. 2, 1998, pp. 9698.
Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends (Catalogue
No. 4102.0), 2003, p. 134.
John C. Caldwell, Pat Caldwell and
Peter McDonald, op. cit., pp. 1214.
United Nations (UN) Population
Division, World Population Prospects, 2000 Revision, (as
reproduced in ABS, Births, Australia,
(Catalogue No. 3301.0) 2001, p. 15.)
John C. Caldwell, Pat Caldwell and
Peter McDonald, op. cit., p. 14.
ibid., p. 18.
ibid., pp. 1314.
Peter McDonald, 'Gender Equity, Social
Institutions and the Future of Fertility', Journal of
Population Research, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2002, p.14.
ABS, Marriages and Divorces,
Australia, (Catalogue No. 3301.0), 19992001, p. 16.
Australia, (Catalogue No. 3301.0) 2001, p. 16 and
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