Q and A: Gen Y family formers

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What is now the most common age of women when they have their first baby; how has this changed in Australia and what are the forecasts?

Generation Y has transformed the lifestages that once marked adulthood and independence. The age of leaving home, starting full time employment, getting a mortgage, marriage and starting a family have all been pushed back later in life. Four decades ago, the median age of females giving birth was 25, while today it is 30.7. Similarly, the median age of females at first birth has been pushed five years later to 29.3. Indeed the age group with the highest fertility rate (births per female) are those 30-34, well above the second category of those aged 25-29, and of all age years from 20-39, the only one that has been growing over this decade are those aged 35-39.

The reasons for the delays in starting families and the rise of older parents are numerous. Generation Y are staying in education longer and starting their earnings later than their parents did. While 1 in 5 Baby Boomers has a university degree and 1 in 4 Gen Xers, for Generation Y it is 1 in 3. Generation Y is the first generation where females have a higher level of formal education than males with 29% of males aged 25-34 holding a university degree compared to 40% of females in this age group. But this increased education comes at the price of delayed earnings and a university debt. Additionally, this generation are beginning their economic lives in times of growing living costs and declining housing affordability. Four decades ago, the average capital city house price was the equivalent of 5 times average annual earnings, by the mid 90s it had stretched to 6 times, while today it is 10 times average annual earnings. In Sydney the median city house price is more than 13 times average annual full time earnings of $72,000.

While the economic, educational and social trends have pushed back the age of starting families, there are biological limits to this trend. Over the last few decades, IVF technology has provided fertility assistance to women in their 30s who are part of this delayed parenting trend, however as fertility expert William Ledger, Professor of Medicine at UNSW points out, “beyond the age of 40, the success rate of IVF has barely moved since the first test tube baby was born in the 1970s”. Scientific advances such as egg freezing and fertility testing continue to assist those who are past the traditional child bearing age, however reversing the chromosomal changes to eggs as women age has not yet become a reality. Generation Z who enter their 20s this year may follow the Generation Y experience by responding to these biological realities and scientific limitations by balancing their family forming years amidst their career and financial goals rather than after they have been achieved.


More on changing generational characteristics can be found in Mark McCrindle’s book The ABC of XYZ: Understanding The Global Generations.

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