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Since 1901 Australia has experienced two long periods of fertility decline: from 1907 to 1934, and from 1962 to the present. For the first decade of the 20th century the total fertility rate remained at around 3.7 to 4.0 babies per woman, then consistently declined over the next two and a half decades. By 1934, during the Great Depression, the total fertility rate had fallen to 2.1 babies per woman. It then increased during the second half of the 1930s, as women who had deferred child-bearing in the Depression years began to have children. Fertility increased through World War II and the 1950s, and peaked in 1961 when the total fertility rate reached 3.5 babies per woman (see graph 5.20).
According to United Nations projections, the world average total fertility rate for 2000-05 will be 2.68 babies per woman, declining from the relatively constant five births per woman that existed until the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, total fertility rates for individual countries vary remarkably. Many factors can influence a country's fertility rate, such as differences in social and economic development and the use of contraceptives. In general, developing countries have higher fertility rates while developed countries usually have lower rates.
While Australia's total fertility rate for 2000 of 1.75 babies per woman is well below the world's average, it is comparable to that of other developed countries, most of which have also experienced sustained fertility decline. According to the United Nations estimated average total fertility rates for 2000-05, Armenia, Bulgaria, Latvia and Ukraine share the lowest total fertility rate (1.10) followed by Spain (1.13), and Slovenia and the Russian Federation (each 1.14). In contrast, the West African and Asian countries have relatively high fertility rates, with Niger (8.00) and Yemen (7.60) the highest.
Over the past 50 years the total fertility rate has declined for most countries. Of the selected countries shown in graph 5.21, the total fertility rates of the Asian countries have shown the largest declines. Singapore and China experienced large declines in the total fertility rate of 5.0 and 4.4 children per woman respectively, between 1950-55 and 2000-05.
Australian women continue to delay child-bearing. The median age at child-bearing has increased from 26.6 years in 1980 to 28.3 years in 1990, then to 29.8 years in 2000 (graph 5.22). In 1980 most births were to women aged 25 years and over, with 8.0% of all births to women aged 25 years. In 2000, most births were by women aged 29 years and over, with 7.6% of all births to women aged 28 years and 7.4% of all births to women at 29 years. Over the past 20 years there has been a fall in the proportion of births to teenage mothers, from 7.8% in 1980 to 4.6% in 2000. Conversely, the proportion of births to women aged 40 years and above has increased, from 0.8% in 1980 to 2.6% in 2000.
Table 5.23 brings together summary measures of fertility for census years between 1901 and 1986, and individual years between 1990 and 2000.