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Population Growth: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fertility
Fertility levels and trends
Estimates from the 1991 Census3 indicate that the total fertility rate of Aboriginal women is about 3.1 children per woman, over 50% higher than the figure of 1.9 for total women. Over the last 30 years, there has been a substantial decline in fertility for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women. Accompanying this has been a narrowing of the fertility differential between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women. In the 1960s, Aboriginal fertility, at about 6.0 children per woman, was about twice the rate for total women.
Fertility declines for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women over the last 30 years have followed a similar pattern with the sharpest decrease recorded during the 1970s. However, the fertility decline for non-Aboriginal women commenced in the 1960s while for Aboriginal women fertility was largely stable in the 1960s followed by a sharp decline in the early 1970s. In the ten years to 1991, the fertility of both populations has been reasonably stable.
TOTAL FERTILITY RATE
Source: Birth Registrations; Census of Population and Housing; Gray (1983)1; Jain (1989)2; Dugbaza (1994)3
Aboriginal women have children at younger ages than non-Aboriginal women. Fertility among 15-19 year old Aboriginal women was more than five times higher than among all 15-19 year old women in 1991. Among 20-24 year olds, Aboriginal fertility was about two and a half times higher. Aboriginal fertility peaks in the 20-24 years age group while for the total population the peak child-bearing ages are 25-29 years. The fertility of women aged 30 years and over is similar in both the Aboriginal and total Australian populations. Aboriginal women aged 15-24 years contributed over 75% of the difference in the total fertility rate between Aboriginal women and all Australian women. The earlier age at commencement of child-bearing by Aboriginal women, and the higher fertility of 15-24 year old Aboriginal women are most responsible for the higher fertility of Aboriginal women.
AGE-SPECIFIC FERTILITY RATES
Trends in age-specific fertility
Over the past 30 years declines in Aboriginal fertility have occurred in all age groups. Older women experienced proportionally larger declines than younger women. The smallest fall in relative terms was among the 15-19 years age group, so that the contribution of this group to the total fertility of Aboriginal women has increased relative to that of other age groups. In 1961, the age-specific fertility rate of 15-19 year old Aboriginal women was 80% that of 30-34 year olds. In 1991 the fertility of 15-19 years olds was just as high as that of 30-34 year olds.
The net effect of this has been a decline in the average age of Aboriginal mothers at child-bearing. In comparison, the average age of women at child-bearing in the total population has been increasing. The trend towards younger ages of Aboriginal mothers may continue. On the other hand, the contribution of the different age groups to total Aboriginal fertility in 1991 is not dissimilar to that for the total population in 1971, when much higher fertility was observed in the 15-24 years age group. It is possible that Aboriginal fertility will in the future move further towards that of non-Aboriginal women.
Contribution of age groups
In 1991, Aboriginal women under 25 years contributed about half of total Aboriginal fertility, while the contribution to total fertility of all women under 25 years was only a little over a quarter. Correspondingly, in the total population, older age groups contributed more to total fertility than older Aboriginal women did to total Aboriginal fertility. For example, women aged 25-34 years contributed about 63% of total fertility compared to 41% of Aboriginal fertility.
The contribution of a particular age group to the total births in a population depends on the age-specific fertility rate as well as the relative size of the age group in the population. Not only do younger Aboriginal women have higher fertility rates but they also comprise a higher proportion of Aboriginal women of child-bearing ages relative to the total population. In 1991, 40% of Aboriginal women aged 15-49 years were under 25 years of age compared to 30% of all women aged 15-49 years.
CUMULATIVE CONTRIBUTION TO TOTAL FERTILITY, 1991
Source: Census of Population and Housing
Aboriginal fertility varies between States as does the fertility differential between the Aboriginal and the total population. The highest rates of Aboriginal fertility were recorded in Western Australia and the Northern Territory (3.6 and 3.4 respectively) and the lowest rates in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory (both 2.6). In most States and Territories the Aboriginal population represents only a small proportion of the total population (see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people), and the fertility of the non-Aboriginal population can be approximated by the fertility of the total population. In the Northern Territory, however, Aboriginal people comprise about a quarter of the total population and the total fertility rate for the Northern Territory is significantly higher than that for other States and Territories (2.3 compared to 1.7-1.9). When the total fertility rate is calculated for the non-Aboriginal population of the Northern Territory, the figure of 1.9 conforms to the Australian average.
Differences in fertility reflect differences in socio-economic factors including urbanisation, education and labour force status4. Studies by Gray5,6 have shown that these factors also influence Aboriginal fertility which is higher in rural than in urban areas, and higher for Aboriginal women without post-school qualifications than for those with them.
The high Aboriginal fertility in Western Australia and the Northern Territory is associated with low proportions of Aboriginal people living in the capital city, low Aboriginal labour force participation and low proportions of Aboriginal people who stayed at school beyond the age of 15 years, relative to the Australian average. Correspondingly, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, where Aboriginal fertility is lowest, have the highest Aboriginal education levels and the highest Aboriginal labour force participation rates.
Overall, 30% of Aboriginal families had a non-Aboriginal mother in 1991. This proportion was considerably lower in the Northern Territory and Western Australia (13% and 20% respectively) and considerably higher in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory (45% and 42% respectively).
TOTAL FERTILITY RATES, 1991
Source: Birth Registrations; Census of Population and Housing; Dugbaza (1994)3
SELECTED CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER POPULATION, 1991
(a) Those families containing at least one Aboriginal parent or child.
Source: Census of Population and Housing
1 Gray, A. (1983) Australian fertility in decline Ph.D. thesis, ANU, Canberra.
2 Jain, S.K. (1989) Estimation of Aboriginal fertility, 1976-86: an application of the 'own children' method of fertility estimation ABS Occasional Paper (cat. no. 4127.0).
3 Dugbaza, T. (1994) Recent trends and differentials in Aboriginal fertility, 1981-1991 ABS Demography Working Paper No. 1994/1.
4 ABS (1992) Fertility in Australia (cat. no. 2514.0).
5 Gray, A. (1990) Aboriginal fertility: trends and prospects Journal of the Australian Population Association Vol. 7 no. 1.
6 Gray, A. (1992) Aboriginal population prospects Paper presented to the Australian Population Association Conference, Sydney, 1992.
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