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According to United Nations projections, the world average total fertility rate for 2000-05 is estimated at 2.7 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.
Over the past 50 years, fertility has declined in most countries. Of the countries shown in graph 5.29, 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 1.7 in 2000-05.
Australia’s total fertility rate for 2003 of 1.8 babies per woman was well below the world’s average of 2.7 but 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 the period 2000-05, Macao (SAR of China) has the lowest fertility rate (0.8), followed by Hong Kong (SAR of China) (0.9) and Ukraine (1.1). Several European countries also have very low fertility, including Spain, Italy and the Russian Federation (all 1.3). By contrast, many African countries have high fertility rates, with Niger (7.9) being the highest (graph 5.30). Other countries with high fertility include the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (7.8) and Afghanistan (7.5).
5.30 TOTAL FERTILITY RATES, By country - 2000-05
Source: United Nations Population Division, 'World population prospects: The 2004 revision', viewed 22/07/05, <http://www.un.org>.
Australian women continue to delay child-bearing. The median age at child-bearing increased from 26.9 years in 1983 to 28.9 years in 1993, then to 30.5 years in 2003. Over the past 20 years there has been a fall in the fertility rate of teenagers, from 26.6 babies per 1,000 teenage females in 1983 to 16.3 in 2003. Conversely, the fertility rate of women aged 40-44 years has more than doubled, from 4.3 babies per 1,000 women in 1983 to 10.0 in 2003. However, births to older mothers have failed to compensate for the decline in births to younger women, resulting in a decline in total fertility (graph 5.31).
An alternative to the ‘snapshot’ measure provided by the total fertility rate for a specific period is total issue data, that is, the total number of children ever born alive per woman. 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. Completed fertility (the average number of babies a cohort of females have borne) for the cohort born in 1953 show an average issue of 2.3 births per woman. Projections into the future show that the cohort of females born in 2003 would have an average issue of 1.6 births per woman if current trends continue.
Table 5.32 provides summary measures of fertility for years between 1993 and 2003.