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In 2002 there were 251,000 births registered in Australia, resulting in a total fertility rate of 1.76 babies per woman. Australia is experiencing the second of two long periods of fertility decline since 1901 - from 1907 to 1934 and from 1962 to the present (excluding a plateau from 1966 to 1972) - although in recent years the total fertility rate has remained relatively stable.
According to United Nations projections, the world average total fertility rate for 2000-05 is estimated at 2.69 babies per woman, declining from the relatively constant five 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.
Australia’s total fertility rate for 2002 of 1.76 babies per woman was well below the world’s average but it was 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, Hong Kong has the lowest fertility rate (1.00), followed by Bulgaria, Latvia and Macau (SAR of China) (1.10). Several European countries also have very low fertility, including the Russian Federation (1.14), Spain (1.15) and Italy (1.23). By contrast, many West African and Asian countries have relatively high fertility rates, with Niger (8.00) and Somalia (7.25) being the highest.
Over the past 50 years, fertility has declined in most countries. Of the countries shown in graph 5.24, the total fertility rates of the Asian countries have shown the largest declines. Singapore and China experienced large declines in the total fertility rate - from 6.4 and 6.2 babies per woman respectively in 1950-55, to 1.4 and 1.8 in 2000-05.
Australian women continue to delay child-bearing. The median age at child-bearing increased from 26.8 years in 1982 to 28.7 years in 1992, then to 30.2 years in 2002 (graph 5.25). Over the past 20 years there has been a fall in the fertility rate of teenagers, from 27.4 babies per 1,000 teenage females in 1982 to 17.1 in 2002. Conversely, the fertility rate of women aged 40 years and above has doubled, from 1.3 babies per 1,000 women in 1982 to 2.6 in 2002. However, births to older mothers have failed to compensate for the decline in births to younger women, resulting in a decline in total fertility.
Total issue data provides an alternative to the ‘snapshot’ measure provided by the total fertility rate. Total issue data reveal a decline over time in the average number of children by age of women. While at earlier ages the decline in average issue may be related to the postponement of child-bearing, average issue among women aged 40-44 years has also declined (from 2.11 children born to women born in 1962 to 1.75 children projected to have been born to women born in 1992).
Table 5.26 provides summary measures of fertility for census years between 1901 and 1986, and individual years between 1992 and 2002.