Australia is experiencing record low birth rates per couple but a record high number birth overall. Women are choosing to delay getting married and having children, prioritising education and career before starting a family.
At the same time, Australia enjoys one of the highest life expectancies in the world. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, ‘Life expectancy is the most commonly used measure to describe population health and reflects the overall mortality level of a population.’
The average Australian life expectancy is at an all time high, increasing by 10 years over the past four decades. Improvements in healthcare and modern medicine being contributing factors.
First time mums becoming older
Forty years ago (1978), the median age of mothers was 26.3. Twenty years later (1998), the age had risen by 3.2 years to 29.5. Another two decades on (2018) mothers at the time of giving birth increased another 1.9 years older to 31.4 years.
This is a new record; Australians giving birth are now the oldest that they have ever been. In fact, over the past decade, as fertility rates have fallen, the only age groups where there has been an increase in birth rates have been in those aged 35-39 and 40-44 years.
Australians having fewer children
A century ago, Australia’s total fertility rate was 3.1 before falling to a historic low during the Great Depression, when it hit the “replacement rate” of 2.1. It then began to climb consistently for three decades, apart from a brief drop during World War 2, before hitting an all-time high of 3.5 in 1961.
With increasing female workforce participation, increasing education rates and the introduction of the contraceptive pill, the birth rate dropped throughout the 1960’s, falling below the replacement rate for the first time in 1976.
After briefly stabilising in the 1980’s, the Australian birth rate fell again throughout the 1990’s hitting a record low in 2002 of 1.73. This was the year that the Baby Bonus was introduced, and this era saw the birth rate rise again to 2.02 in 2008.
However, since then the birth rate has continued to fall and the latest data shows the second lowest rate on record (1.74), beaten only by the 2001 low of 1.73 which prompted the policy response of the Baby Bonus.
Record low birth rates per couple but record high number of births overall
Despite near record low birth rates, the birth numbers have hit a record high of 315,147. This is simply because a lower birth rate across a fast-growing population rate will lead to growing birth numbers.
Over the decade from 2008, the birth rate has decreased by 14% while the population has increased by 18% leading to nearly 13,000 more births now than then.
Yet it must be understood that natural increase today accounts for just one third (36%) of Australia’s population growth, with two thirds (64%) coming through net migration.
Ageing population the result of fewer births
One of the impacts of fewer births relative to the population (birth rate) is an ageing population. Australia’s median age is currently 37.3. Four decades ago (1979) it was 28, and in four decades time (2059) it is forecast to be 42 years.
Australia’s “population pyramid” which once had far more younger people than older people, is slowly inverting. Our population in the 2020’s will approach the point where there’ll be more seniors (Australians 60+ currently comprise 5.3 million) than children and teenagers (under 18’s total 5.6 million).
Increased life-expectancy for consecutive generations
Australians have added more than 10 years of life in the last four decades. As Australia entered the 1960’s, life expectancy at birth had not quite hit 70.
Today, life expectancy for an Australian at birth is almost 83 (80.7 years for males and 84.9 years for females). Longevity gains are continuing in the past decade, life expectancy for males has increased by 1.5 years, and 1.2 years for females.
Currently, at the retirement age of 65, the average male can expect to live to 85, and the average female to live to 88. Based on these current longevity gains, by the time Generation Alpha (born since 2010) reach this age, their average life expectancy will be in the early to mid-90’s.
“Australia’s population is larger than ever, and growing faster than ever, but with declining birth rates, it is also older than ever. The ageing of our population is a good news story – we’re ageing not only because of lower birth rates, but longer life expectancy. So, amidst the longevity boom in Australia, we are seeing not just ageing, but downageing – with Australians working later, active longer and redefining what the post – working years look like.” – Demographer, Mark McCrindle.
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