3301.0 - Births, Australia, 1998  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/11/1999   
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November 16, 1999
Embargoed: 11:30 AM (AEST)

Australian fertility continues to decline - ABS

Australia's birthrate declined further during 1998, continuing a downward trend that began in the early 1990s, according to figures published today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

In 1998 the average number of births per woman was 1.76, well below 2.1, the level needed for a woman to replace herself and her partner. Australia's fertility has been below replacement level since 1976. Currently, it is lower than that of the United States of America (2.0) and New Zealand (2.0), at much the same level as in the United Kingdom (1.7), and above the levels of Canada (1.5), Germany (1.3), Italy (1.2) and Spain (1.1).

The fall in fertility is associated with a decline in the number of births to young women aged 15-29 years. The fertility of teenagers reached an all-time low in 1998 (18.5 births per 1,000 female teenagers in 1998 compared to 22.1 in 1990). The peak age of fertility is 25-29 years but the birthrate in this age group is declining relatively quickly. In contrast, birthrates of women aged 35 years and over continued their upward trend and in 1998 these women contributed 15% to total fertility, compared to 10% in 1988.

Over the past decade, the fertility of women in South Australia remained steady while it continued to decline in all other States and Territories. Of all capital cities, Canberra had the lowest level of fertility (1.5 births per woman) while Darwin had the highest level (2.0 births per woman) in 1998.

The median age of parents has steadily increased over the past two decades. In 1978 the median age of mothers was 26.3 years, increasing to 29.5 years in 1998. The median age of fathers increased from 29.2 years in 1978 to 32.0 years in 1998. The median age of Indigenous mothers was much lower at 24.6 years.

Based on current levels of fertility, it is estimated that 28% of women will remain childless. As the proportion of families with no children or one child is increasing and the proportion of families with three or more children is declining, a higher proportion of women are opting to have two children (31%).

Births are the main component of population growth. However the number of registered births in Australia has continued to fall throughout the 1990s despite an increase in the number of women of reproductive age. In 1978, 224,200 births were registered, rising consistently each year to reach 264,200 in 1992. Since then the number of births has fallen to 249,600 in 1998.

Four per cent of total births were identified as Indigenous, and fertility of Indigenous women is estimated to be at least 2.2 births per woman. Indigenous babies were lighter, with an average birth weight of 3,140 grams compared to 3,360 grams for all babies.

These statistics, published today in Births, Australia 1998 (cat. no. 3301.0), are based on birth registrations made available by State and Territory registrars. A summary of the publication may be found on this site. The ABS encourages media organisations with online news services to link to the summary. Please phone us if you need assistance to do this.