One of the more anticipated publications released by the ABS is Births, Australia (Cat. No. 3301.0) – click here to view publication, which is produced on an annual basis. The data contained in this publication is of great importance for the planning of children’s services such as education, and from an .id perspective it provides a detailed insight into the fertility behaviour of populations in different geographic areas across Australia and allows our forecasting team to review their assumptions about fertility. 2010 proved to be a record year for births in Australia.
What are this year’s highlights?
- In 2010, there were 297,700 births registered in Australia. Even though we didn’t quite crack the 300,000 mark, this was the highest number of births registered in a calendar year. This surpassed the previous mark of 296,620 set in 2008.
- The total fertility rate (TFR) was 1.89. This means if current fertility rates were to continue, each woman of reproductive age could be expected to have 1.89 babies. Though the TFR has been on an upward trend since the beginning of the 2000s, it is still below the replacement level of 2.1 (replacement level meaning two babies born to replace two parents, plus an adjustment for infant mortality).
- With the TFR increasing from 1.76 in 2000 to 1.89 in 2010, the increase in the actual number of births was over 48,200. Since 2006, the number of births registered in Australia has been at or higher than numbers recorded in the early 1970s – after which time fertility declined dramatically in response to major societal change eg increased availability of the Pill, increasing participating of women in the workforce and education.
- Victoria has the lowest TFR in Australia (1.75), whereas the Northern Territory has the highest (2.11). The higher TFR in the Northern Territory is influenced by higher fertility rates amongst the Indigenous population.
- On a global scale, statistics produced by the United Nations for the period 2005-2010 show a TFR of 1.9 for Australia. Compare this with some of the poorer African countries where the TFR is extremely high (7.2 in Niger!). At the other end of the scale, some Asian countries have very low fertility, with a rate of just 1.0 recorded for Hong Kong, and 1.3 for Japan and Korea.
Spatial differences in fertility – the Victorian example
The national TFR masks considerable localised differences which can result in significant variations in birth numbers even across a small geographic area such as a Local Government Area (LGA). At .id, we account for spatial differences in fertility in our population forecasts, applying LGA or SLA data as appropriate.
The map below shows the differences in the TFR across Victoria by LGA – as mentioned above – the State with the lowest TFR in 2010. Most metropolitan Melbourne municipalities recorded TFRs below the national figure of 1.89, and they were particularly low in the inner ring areas. The lowest TFR was recorded in Melbourne City(1.03), but Port Phillip (1.14), Stonnington (1.2) and Yarra (1.29) also recorded low rates. This continues a long standing trend of low fertility in inner suburbs, where many women of reproductive age have other commitments such as education or are starting their careers. In addition, the dwelling stock in Melbourne’s inner suburbs is not conducive to housing large families – much of it consists of older stock typically with two bedrooms, or medium to high density unit developments. A typical pattern for many young families who live in the inner city is to have their first child there, but move further out when the second and third children are born where the housing stock is better suited to larger households. This pattern of low fertility in inner urban areas is a common theme across Australia’s state capitals, taken to the extreme in the City of Adelaide (0.89) and the City of Perth (0.91).
The highest TFRs in metropolitan Melbourne were recorded in the growth areas on the metropolitan fringe – Melton (2.2), Cardinia (2.19) and Wyndham (2.16) recorded the highest rates. This is not surprising given the age structure and household composition of these areas – not only are younger families common, but there are also significant numbers of couple families who are yet to have children.
Regional areas have a complex spatial pattern but what is surprising to many people is that TFRs are generally higher than metropolitan Melbourne. This would seem to contradict demographic trends such as the decline of rural towns and the outmigration of young people – a former colleague of mine once commented that young women leave regional Victoria and take their fertility with them, but it’s not quite that simple. Women who do live in regional Victoria are having more children than their urban counterparts. In 2010, the highest TFR in Victoria was recorded in Murrindindi (2.58), north east of Melbourne, and was over 2.0 across most of Gippsland and the south west of the state (with the notable exception of Glenelg and Warrnambool). Interestingly, fertility rates were slightly lower in the LGAs with large regional centres. Greater Geelong’s TFR of 1.86 was slightly below the national figure, whereas Ballarat and Greater Bendigo recorded the same TFR as the national figure (1.89). The TFR of 1.97 in Latrobe City was noticeably lower than other LGAs in the Gippsland region.
Births data for 2010 certainly suggests that fertility trends in Australia are maintaining the momentum of recent years. While there has been an increase in the number of births, part of this also relates to the large cohort of women in Australia who are of reproductive age, ie there is a bigger pool of women who can have children. The fact remains that the TFR remains below the replacement level of 2.1 and appears to have plateauted. Over the past few years several commentators have heralded the start of a new baby boom, but the heady days of the early 1960s when the TFR was above 3.0 are not likely to be reached again….not in the short term anyway!
You can access population forecasts for suburbs across Victoria here.
You can access population forecasts for local government areas across Australia here.