Australian Bureau of Statistics
4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1997
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/06/1997
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Population Growth: Australia's child population
Children have a range of developmental needs which vary with their physical and mental capacities as they grow older and prepare for adulthood. Families provide the nest for child development but families are also supported by governments, businesses and various community groups in providing services for children. As well as health services, child-care centres and schools, children have needs for places where they can develop through play, sport and other forms of recreation and learning.
As with other groups of people with special needs (e.g. people with disabilities, the frail and the aged) an understanding of trends in the growth in numbers of children at the national level as well as those in particular localities underpins the ability to plan for the provision of services. Past trends offer insights into the future.
The increasing number of children
The number of children in Australia more than doubled between 1925 and 1995, from 2.2 million to 4.6 million. Most of the growth occurred after World War II, from the late 1940s, through the 1950s, and to a lesser extent through the 1960s. The growth over this period started with the post-war baby boom, which has been attributed to the rapid increase in the proportion of people marrying and having children. At the same time, high levels of immigration brought additional children and young couples of child-bearing age to Australia (see Australian Social Trends 1996, Australia's population growth).
Levels of fertility fell markedly during the 1960s, and by 1976 had fallen to below the level required to replace the population (2.1 children per woman). This decline, together with lower levels of immigration, has contributed to the levelling out of the child population over the last two decades.
Between 1985 and 1995 the child population increased by only 2%, having declined by just over 1% over the previous decade. Some of the impact of the low level of fertility was offset by an increase in the number of children born as a result of the baby-boom generation reaching child-bearing age. This echo effect was especially evident in the early 1970s (see Australian Social Trends 1996, Trends in fertility).
While the number of children has increased, the proportion of the population who are children has decreased. In 1925 children accounted for 36% of Australia's total population. By 1995, this had decreased to 26%. This trend is related to declines in levels of fertility as well as increases in the numbers of older people due to increases in longevity. These influences on the relative size of the child population are expected to continue. In 2025 children are projected to represent 21% of the total population.
The relative decline in the child population is most apparent when compared with the growth of the population aged 65 years and over. Thus while the child population increased by 1% between 1975 and 1995, the population aged 65 and over increased by 78%.
As well as changes in the size of the child population, the age distribution of children has fluctuated since 1925 with a consequent effect on demands for different age-related services. For example, in 1955, 33% of all children were infants or toddlers (0-4 years), 42% were of primary school age and 26% were aged 12-17. However, with declining fertility, children in the 0-4 years age group have come to represent a smaller proportion of the child population (28% in 1995). This trend has tended to shift the demands for child-related services in favour of the needs of older children.
GROWTH OF THE CHILD POPULATION
Source: Estimated Resident Population (unpublished data); Projections of the Populations of Australia (unpublished data).
Slow growth in the future
The most recent set of ABS population projections indicates that the number of children is expected to increase over the next 30 years. However, the rate of increase is expected to be relatively slow and as time progresses, to decrease further.
The future size of the child population is dependent on the future numbers of women of child-bearing age and their levels of fertility. Future levels of fertility are difficult to predict as they are influenced by changes in marriage patterns as well as changes in attitudes towards having children. These changes are in turn influenced by such things as changing patterns of labour force participation and the perceived costs of having children as well as other, as yet unknown, factors.
Net migration gains from children born overseas will also contribute to the future growth of the child population, but compared to births (an average of 260,000 per year between 1990 to 1995) the gains are likely to be small. The number of children aged under 18 from net migration, an average of 27,900 per year between 1990 and 1995, have been relatively small. Deaths of children aged under 18 (an average of 2,900 per year between 1990 and 1995) have a much smaller impact on the overall size of the child population.
The methods used to produce population projections take into account these various factors and use different sets of assumptions about fertility, mortality and migration to provide several population growth scenarios. These alternative scenarios are referred to as projection Series A to D. In projection
Series A, the total fertility rate is assumed to remain at the 1994 level of 1.85 children per woman. Using this series, the number of children is projected to increase to a little under 4.9 million in 2005, a little over 4.9 million in 2015 and just over 5.0 million in 2025. From 1995 to 2025, the number of pre-school children (aged 0-4) is projected to increase by 46,000 while the numbers aged 5-11 and 12-17 are projected to increase by 95,200 and 100,000 respectively.
In projection Series D, an alternative fertility assumption is used. Fertility is assumed to decline between 1994 and 2004 from 1.85 to 1.75 children per woman after which it remains unchanged. With these assumptions the size of the child population is projected to increase at a slower rate and by 2025 is projected to be 4.7 million, around 300,000 fewer than the Series A projection.
Irrespective of which assumptions are used (Series A or D), the balance between younger and older children will remain fairly stable over the next 30 years.
Trends at regional levels are more difficult to predict. Regional differences in population composition (notably, the proportions of women of child-bearing age) and patterns of fertility will affect local trends. Moreover, future changes in the numbers of children within particular areas are also affected by levels of inter-regional migration.
PROJECTED(a) GROWTH OF THE CHILD POPULATION
Source: Projections of the Populations of Australia (unpublished data).
States and Territories
Many decisions relating to the provision of services for children, such as the establishment or expansion of schools, are made by State and local governments.
Each State and Territory population has a different age profile. For example, although one third of all children lived in New South Wales in 1995, they made up only 25% of the population in that State, slightly less than the Australian average of 26%. In contrast, 32% of the population in the Northern Territory were children. These differences can also be observed in the Population - State summary table (see p. 3) which shows proportions of the populations aged 0-14.
Between 1995 and 2025, the overall number of children is projected to fall in Tasmania (by 19%), South Australia (10%) and Victoria (5%). However, this will be offset by increases in the other States and Territories, especially Queensland (30%), Western Australia (22%) and the Northern Territory (18%).
High growth localities
Much of the rapid increase in the child population during the post-war baby boom occurred in newly developed outer-suburban areas of our major cities, creating so-called nappy valleys.
Viewing the progression of babies to pre-adolescents and teenagers that occurred as these suburbs developed has indicated that the need for many children's services in particular areas often develops in a cyclical manner. When a suburb is first established, the population grows rapidly as large numbers of young couples move in. Population growth continues as these couples have children, and bring demands for services. As child-bearing is completed, population growth levels off but the demands of an older child population increase. Eventually the population begins to decline as children leave home, and the need for schools and other services declines. This decline may be accelerated as the original settlers either move out or die. However, population decline is stopped if new people move into the suburb. If these people are young couples, the population may begin to increase and the cycle repeats1.
This simplified model suggests that local areas with the greatest needs for particular children's services (such as the need for more schools) can be identified according to their life-cycle stage. Locating areas experiencing high levels of growth in the pre-school aged population helps to identify high demand areas for schools and other children's services.
Between 1990 and 1995, many of the Statistical Local Areas (SLAs) experiencing the highest growth in the 0-4 year age group were located on the outer fringe areas of capital cities. Of the five SLAs with the greatest increase, one was in Brisbane (Caboolture), two were located in Sydney's West (Blacktown and Liverpool) and the remaining two were in Melbourne (Casey-Berwick and Casey-South).
AREAS WITH THE LARGEST INCREASES IN CHILDREN AGED 0-4, 1990-95
Source: Estimated Resident Population (unpublished data).
1 Hugo, Graeme 1986, Australia's Changing Population: Trends and Implications, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
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