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After 1961 the total fertility rate fell rapidly, to 2.9 babies per woman in 1966. This fall can be attributed to changing social attitudes, in particular a change in people's perception of desired family size, facilitated to an extent by the oral contraceptive pill becoming available. During the 1970s the total fertility rate dropped further, falling to replacement level (2.1 babies per woman) in 1976, below which it has since remained. This fall was more marked than the fall in the early-1960s and has been linked to increasing participation of women in education and the labour force, changing attitudes to family size, lifestyle choices and greater access to contraceptive measures and abortion.
In the late-1970s the total fertility rate began to decline at a slower rate, continuing through the 1980s and 1990s. Since then the total fertility rate has increased, from 1.73 babies per woman in 2001, to 1.79 in 2005, the highest recorded since 1996 (1.80).
According to United Nations 2006 projections, the world average total fertility rate for the five-year period 2005-10 is estimated at 2.55 babies per woman. 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.
In contrast, many African countries have high fertility. Projections for the period 2005-10 have Niger (7.19) among the highest. In South-East Asia, in the period 1955-60, East Timor (6.53) had one of the world's highest fertility rates and, like Niger, is projected to have sustained high fertility during the period 2005-10.
Australian women continue to delay child-bearing. The median age at child-bearing increased from 27.3 years in 1985 to 29.1 years in 1995, then to 30.7 years in 2005. Over the last 20 years there has been a fall in the fertility rate of teenagers, from 22.8 babies per 1,000 teenage females in 1985 to 15.9 in 2005. Conversely, the fertility rate of women aged 40-44 years more than doubled, from 4.5 babies per 1,000 women in 1985 to 10.8 in 2005. However, births to older mothers failed to compensate for the decline in births to younger women, resulting in a decline in total fertility (graph 7.27).
An alternative to the ‘snapshot’ measure provided by the total fertility rate is total issue statistics (the total number of children ever born 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 1955 show an average of 2.2 births per woman. Projections show that females born in 2005 would have an average of 1.7 births per woman, if current trends were to continue.
Table 7.28 provides summary measures of fertility for the period 1995 to 2005.