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According to United Nations projections, the world average total fertility rate for the five-year period 2000-05 is estimated at 2.65 babies per woman, declining from the relatively constant 5.0 babies per woman that existed until the late-1960s and early-1970s. However, total fertility rates for individual countries vary considerably. Many factors can influence a country's fertility rate, such as differences in social and economic development and the prevalence of contraceptive use. In general, developing countries have higher fertility rates than developed countries.
Over the last 50 years fertility declined in most countries. According to the United Nations projections, Singapore and China experienced some of the largest declines in the average total fertility rate - from 6.4 and 6.2 babies per woman respectively in 1950-55 to 1.4 and 1.7 in 2000-05 (graph 5.22). During 2000-05, Macao (SAR of China) recorded one of the lowest average total fertility rates (0.84), followed by Hong Kong (SAR of China) (0.94). Several European countries also had low fertility, including Ukraine (1.12), Spain (1.27), Italy (1.28), Germany (1.32) and the Russian Federation (1.33). Although below the world’s average of 2.65, Australia’s total fertility rate for 2004 of 1.77 babies per woman is comparable to other developed countries.
In contrast, many African countries had high fertility in the period 2000-05 with Niger (7.91) being the highest. In south-east Asia, East Timor (7.79) had one of the world's highest fertility rates and, like Niger, experienced sustained high fertility between the periods 1950-55 and 2000-05 (graph 5.22).
Australian women continue to delay child-bearing. The median age at child-bearing increased from 27.1 years in 1984 to 29.0 years in 1994, then to 30.6 years in 2004. Over the last 20 years there has been a fall in the fertility rate of teenagers, from 23.2 babies per 1,000 teenage females in 1984 to 16.3 in 2004. Conversely, the fertility rate of women aged 40-44 years more than doubled, from 4.3 babies per 1,000 women in 1984 to 10.6 in 2004. However, births to older mothers failed to compensate for the decline in births to younger women, resulting in a decline in total fertility (graph 5.23).
An alternative to the ‘snapshot’ measure provided by the total fertility rate is total issue data (the total number of children ever born alive per woman). Total issue data reveal a decline over time in the average number of children ever born by age of women. While at younger ages the decline in the average number of children may be related to the postponement of child-bearing, the average number of children among women aged 40-44 years also declined. Completed fertility (the average number of births a cohort of females have borne) for women born in 1954 show an average of 2.3 births per woman. Projections show that the cohort of females born in 2004 would have an average of 1.6 births per woman, if current trends were to continue.
Table 5.24 provides summary measures of fertility for the period 1994 to 2004.