Q and A: An ageing population and the birth rate

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is Australia’s population ageing partly because there are more women remaining childless, mothers having fewer children and overall fewer babies being born?

It is true that Australia’s population is ageing with the midpoint in our population – the median age having increased from 30 to 37 in the span of 3 decades. However this is largely due to increased longevity and not at all to do with declining births.

In fact Australia is in the midst of a baby boom with the numbers of births setting new records this decade- having exceeded 300,000 births per year, every year since 2008. This is almost twice as many births as Australia experienced in 1946- the year that saw the arrival of the first Baby Boomers. While the peak of Australia’s original baby boom occurred in 1961 with a fertility rate of 3.5 (babies per 1,000 women), which is almost twice the current fertility rate of 1.9, total annual births currently exceed the 1961 record of 240,000 births by more than 60,000.

So the current baby boom is much larger than this original 16 year baby boom (1946-1961) and the total Australian births in the 16 years from 2008 will produce almost 5 million babies – around 1.5 million more than the post-war boom.

Not only are there more babies than ever, but there are more women who are mothers as well. There are more than 6.5 million Australian women aged over 18 who have given birth which is almost 70% of them. It is the case that women are having children later in life with the median age of mothers having increased from 25.5 four decades ago to 30.8 today. However the fertility rates have increased not decreased in the last decade, up from 1.7 in the early 2000’s to 1.9 today. And as for the proportion of women in Australia who will have no children in their lifetime – it remains at 1 in 4 which is a figure unchanged over a generation. Therefore of the women who will have children, the average number of children is actually 2.5.

So Australian mothers are more numerous than ever, collectively parenting more children than ever and on average raising between 2 and 3 of this largest generation in Australia’s history.

More information can be found in Mark McCrindle’s book The ABC of XYZ: Understanding The Global Generations.

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