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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, until reaching a low of 1.73 babies per woman in 2001. Since then, the total fertility rate has increased to 1.92 babies per woman in 2007, the highest recorded since 1985.
According to World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision by United Nations Population Division (UNPD), the world average total fertility rate for the five-year period 2005-2010 is estimated at 2.56 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.
Over the last 30 years, fertility has declined in most countries. According to the United Nations, Indonesia displayed a large decline in the average total fertility rate, from 4.73 in the period 1975-1980 to 2.19 in 2005-2010 (graph 7.21). During the period 2005-2010, Macao (SAR of China) is projected to have one of the lowest average total fertility rates (0.95), followed by Hong Kong (SAR of China) (1.02). Several European countries also have low fertility, including the Ukraine (1.31), Poland (1.27), Italy (1.38), Germany (1.32) and the Russian Federation (1.37). Although below the world average of 2.56, Australia's total fertility rate for 2007 of 1.92 babies per woman is comparable to other developed countries.
In contrast, many African countries have high fertility. Projections for the period 2005-2010 have Niger (7.15) among the highest. In South-East Asia, Timor-Leste (6.53) has one of the world's highest fertility rates, increasing from a total fertility rate in the period 1975-1980 of 4.31 babies per woman.
Despite the recent increase in fertility rates, Australian women are continuing to delay child-bearing. The median age at child-bearing increased from 27.7 years in 1987 to 29.4 years in 1997, then to 30.7 years in 2007. Since 2003, the median age at child-bearing has experienced little variation, remaining between 30.5 and 30.8 years. Over the last 20 years there has been a fall in the fertility rate of teenagers, from 20.6 babies per 1,000 teenage females in 1987 to 16.0 in 2007. Conversely, the fertility rate of women aged 40-44 years more than doubled, from 4.8 babies per 1,000 women in 1987 to 12.6 in 2007 (graph 7.22). All child-bearing ages experienced higher fertility in 2007 than in 2006. In recent years, Australia's total fertility rate has been increasing, resulting in a higher total fertility rate in 2007 than that experienced in the last 20 years.
An alternative to the ‘snapshot’ measure provided by the total fertility rate is the total number of children ever born per woman. These 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. The ABS projections show that females born in 2007 would have an average of 1.8 births per woman, if current trends were to continue.
Table 7.23 provides summary measures of fertility for the period 1997 to 2007.