No rush to have kids in Australia

Cameron Houston
October 30, 2007

THREE years after Treasurer Peter Costello exhorted young Australian couples to make babies proposing one for mum, one for dad and one for the country the message seems to be missing its mark.

New birth statistics show that while the number of children born last year 265,900 was the second-highest since 1971, Australians are continuing to defer parenthood until their 30s, with Victorians waiting the longest of any state.

And despite increases in the Government's baby bonus, providing thousands of dollars in cash support to those who follow the Treasurer's advice, the nation's fertility rate increased only slightly to 1.81 babies per woman last year, up from 1.79 in 2005.

The higher national fertility rate can be attributed to a steady increase in births to women aged between 30 and 39, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday.

The national median age of mothers who gave birth continued to increase in 2006 to 30.8 years, while the median age of an Australian father was 33.1 years. Both figures represent the highest median ages on record.

The trend was more pronounced in Victoria, where the median age of a mother was 31.7 years and a father 33.7 years. In 1986, the median age of a mother was 28.

Victoria's fertility rate which represents the average number of babies a woman can expect if current fertility rates continue was 1.74 and just below the national average.

Fertility Society of Australia spokeswoman Anne Clark warned that the decision to defer motherhood could have serious implications for national population growth: "This is not good news, because fertility levels change for women in their mid-30s and for men after 40, so you are going to have a lot of people pushing it to have more than two children."

Dr Clark said this was happening because "people are not forming committed relationships until they are older, sometimes, well into into their 30s".

ABS data revealed that 68 per cent of people in their 20s still lived with their parents in 2006.

Dr Clark said financial security was another significant determinant.

Monash University demographer Bob Birrell said the peak period of child bearing was now 30 to 34 years, while fertility rates for women between 35 and 39-years had also jumped significantly over the past five-years.

"But Victorian women are real laggers in the younger ages and there has been a substantial fall in fertility rates among 20-year-olds over the last five years," Dr Birrell said.

He said the Federal Government's $4133 baby bonus, which is scheduled to be increased to $5000 next July, had failed to increase the number of births among younger women.

Dr Birrell said sustained economic growth and high levels of employment had contributed to a broader increase in fertility rates across Australia.