3301.0 - Births, Australia, 2009 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/11/2010   
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Contents >> Summary of findings >> Trends in national fertility rates


The total fertility rate (TFR) represents the average number of babies that a woman could expect to bear during her reproductive lifetime, assuming current age-specific fertility rates were experienced. The TFR measures the average number of children per woman, including these who have no children, rather than the average number of children per mother. The TFR does not measure completed fertility (the average number of live births experienced by a cohort of women over their reproductive life).

In 2009, Australia's TFR was 1.90 babies per woman, down slightly from the 2008 TFR of 1.96 babies per woman which was the highest recorded since 1977. Trends in the TFR over the past 80 years are shown in graph 2.1.

After reaching a TFR of 3.1 during the early 1920s, Australian fertility rates were relatively low during the Great Depression of the 1930s, falling to 2.1 babies per woman in 1934. In 1961, at the height of the 'baby boom', the TFR peaked at 3.5 babies per woman. Fertility rates then fell sharply during the early 1960s as the oral contraceptive pill became available.

2.1 Total fertility rate(a), Australia - 1929 to 2009
Graph: 2.1 Total fertility rate(a), Australia—1929 to 2009

Between 1966 and 1971, the TFR remained around 2.9 babies per woman. The reinterpretation of abortion law in New South Wales in late 1971 had a substantial impact on women's ability to control their fertility (Carmichael, 1998). Subsequently, a fall in births to young women contributed to a further decrease in the TFR and an increase in the median age of mothers (graph 2.6).

In 1976, the TFR fell to replacement level (2.1), and continued to fall as increasing numbers of women chose to delay or forego having children. The TFR then stabilised somewhat during the 1980s, before resuming a more gradual decline during the 1990s. The TFR reached a low of 1.73 babies per woman in 2001 before increasing to a thirty-year high of 1.96 babies per woman in 2008. In 2009, the TFR declined slightly to 1.90 babies per woman.

Tempo effects

Care should be exercised in interpreting trends over time using the 'period' TFR as presented in this publication. While the TFR is widely used as a summary measure of a population's current and historical fertility trends, it does not reflect tempo changes in fertility. Tempo changes are the effect of successive cohorts of women who delay or forego having children only to catch up in subsequent years. Analysis of age-specific fertility rates and parity may assist in understanding tempo effects in fertility over time.

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