Australians Want Two Children or More – So What IS Stopping Us?

Australians Want Two Children or More – So What IS Stopping Us?

Media release — 26 February 2008

A new study Fertility and Family Policy in Australia released by the Australian Institute of Family Studies confirms that total fertility rates (TFR) are at historically low levels in Australia and below the level required for population replacement.

The surprising finding is the current total fertility rate figure of 1.81 (up from 1.73 in 2001), while at the higher end for OECD countries, is also well below the number of children Australians of childbearing years want to have. Most would prefer (in order of preference) 2, 3, 4 or more children. Far fewer consider one child or no children their ideal number of children.

Researchers Matthew Gray, Lixia Qu and Ruth Weston say, “Our findings suggest Governments need to use a combination of approaches, recognising that a low fertility rate is not due to a lack of wanting children. Despite our economic prosperity, people lack confidence in their ability to create and maintain a family environment in which children are nurtured and supported, financially and emotionally.”

“Australians certainly need to hear the message that raising children has an intrinsic richness and is an enjoyable part of life. To be effective, however, such a message must reflect reality. Couples need a secure income stream, a loving and stable relationship and the skills and confidence to be parents.”

The study found that the factors that reduce fertility rates include delays in childbearing; fewer committed long term partnerships; increases in relationship breakdowns; difficulties accessing childcare; job insecurity; and rising/fluctuating house prices.

The researchers found lowering the direct and indirect costs of raising children to families and supporting women to combine paid employment with childrearing are likely to boost fertility rates.

The level of government support to families with children in Australia has increased over the last three-decades. In 1980, government spending on families with children was less than 1 per cent of GDP, placing Australia as one of the OECD countries spending the least on families with children. Since then, the increase in family spending in Australia under successive governments has been faster than in almost all other OECD countries. By 2003, family spending in Australia was 3.3 per cent of GDP. This is at the higher end of OECD countries and similar to that in France, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

The researchers conclude that in order to enhance fertility rates, it is important that families have support as the child grows up, not just when the child is a pre-schooler. Parents also need to feel confident that they can manage to raise children while also enjoying opportunities for personal fulfilment both within and beyond the world of family life.

Fertility and Family Policy in Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies Research Paper No. 41 by Matthew Gray, Lixia Qu and Ruth Weston

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