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In 2001 there were 246,400 births registered in Australia. At 1.73 babies per woman, the total fertility rate for 2001 was the lowest on record. Australia is experiencing the second of two long periods of fertility decline since 1901: from 1907 to 1934; and from 1962 to the present.
Of all births registered in Australia in 2001, 5% (11,400) were Indigenous - that is, at least one parent identified as Indigenous. Indigenous women have a higher fertility rate (2.14 babies per woman) than all women, largely due to relatively high fertility at younger ages. In 2001, women under 30 years of age accounted for three-quarters of the total fertility rate. The median age of Indigenous women who registered a birth in 2001 was 24.8 years, more than five years younger than the median age of all women who registered a birth (30.0 years).
According to United Nations projections, the world average total fertility rate for 2000-05 will be 2.69 babies per woman, declining from the relatively constant five births 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 while developed countries usually have lower rates.
While Australia’s total fertility rate for 2001 of 1.73 babies per woman is well below the world’s average, it is 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 2000-05, Hong Kong (SAR of China) has the lowest fertility rate of 1.00, followed by Bulgaria, Latvia and Macau (SAR of China) (1.10). Several European countries also have very low fertility, including Spain (1.15), Italy (1.23) and Greece (1.27). By contrast, many West African and Asian countries have relatively high fertility rates, with Niger (8.00) and Somalia (7.25) the highest.
Over the past 50 years, fertility has declined in most countries. Of the selected countries shown in graph 5.25, the total fertility rates of the Asian countries have shown the largest declines. Singapore and China experienced large declines in the total fertility rate of 6.4 and 6.2 children per woman respectively in 1950-55, to 1.4 and 1.8 in 2000-05.
Australian women continue to delay child-bearing. The median age at child-bearing increased from 26.7 years in 1981 to 28.5 years in 1991, then to 30.0 years in 2001 (graph 5.26). Over the past 20 years there has been a fall in the proportion of births to teenage mothers, from 7.6% in 1981 to 4.8% in 2001. Conversely, the proportion of births to women aged 40 years and above has increased, from 0.8% in 1981 to 2.9% in 2001. However, births to older mothers have failed to compensate for the decline in births to younger women, resulting in the decline in total fertility.
Total issue data provides an alternative to the ‘snapshot’ measure provided by the total fertility rate. Total issue data reveal a decline over time in the average number of children by age of women. Women who were 25-29 years of age in 1981 had 1.3 children on average, compared to 0.8 children ever born to women of the same age in 2001. 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, which has also declined (from 2.8 children in 1981 to 2.3 children in 2001) more or less equates to completed fertility.
The proportion of women remaining childless has increased over time in each age group. For women aged 25-29 years in 1981, 35% were childless, while 59% of women of the same age in 2001 were childless. The same pattern is evident among women approaching the end of their reproductive years. In 1981, 8% of 40-44 year old women were childless. By 2001 this proportion had increased to 13%.
Table 5.27 brings together summary measures of fertility for census years between 1901 and 1986, and individual years between 1991 and 2001.