Issue 63

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Family Matters No. 63, 2002

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Fertility - the debate, the trends, the aspirations

The 'fertility crisis' has been the subject of active debate in the past year, and includes issues related to work and family, women's participation in the paid workforce, the ageing of the population, paid maternity leave, child care, the structure of family payments, the environment and the future of immigration.

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Publications committee: David de Vaus,Matthew Gray,Meredith Michie, Catherine Rosenbrock, Ann Sanson, David Stanton, Ruth Weston and Sarah Wise

Editor: Meredith Michie

Cover art: Girl reading in deck chair, Peter Campbell, 2002. Watercolour on paper. From The London Review of Books Calendar 2002. Reproduced with the permission of the artist and The London Review of Books.

Publication details

Family Matters No. 63
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, December 2002, 88 pp.
1030-2646 (print) 1832-8318 (online)

Copyright information


Why is the fertility rate falling? : A discussion of the literature

Ruth Weston and Robyn Parker

After decades of falling birth rates, fertility in Australia is now at an all time low. In this article the authors examine what might be the cause of this. Two opposing trends dominate demographic discussion. One is that the world's population is increasing rapidly; and the other is that fertility is on the decline. There are many interacting factors underlining the fall in the fertility rate. The most obvious are the modern fertility control measures and the related changing patterns of family formation. This article begins with these issues, and also covers the labour market, the economy and other social influences and personal beliefs.

Director's report: The 'fertility crisis'

David Stanton

The 'fertility crisis' has been the subject of active debate in the past year, and includes issues related to work and family, women's participation in the paid workforce, the ageing of the population, paid maternity leave, child care, the structure of family payments, the environment and the future of immigration. In his Director's report, the author outlines some of the points of view made by various contributors to this issue of Family Matters and the trends involved.

Fertility decline in Australia: A demographic context

David de Vaus

The declining birth rate is a major factor in population ageing and also has important implications for the way families function, for the economy and society more generally, and for issues of environmental sustainability. The purpose of this article is to sketch some of the dimensions of fertility decline in Australia. The author briefly describes the extent to which fertility levels have declined and then discusses the groups in society where fertility rates are relatively low.

Opinion/Comment: Fertility rates, women in the workforce, and economic health

Peter McDonald, Catherine Hakim and Keri Phillips

This article is an edited version of Australian Broadcasting Commission's The Europeans program which was aired on radio in September 2002. The presenter of the program spoke with Peter McDonald, a demographer from the Australian National University and Catherine Hakim, a sociologist at the London School of Economics, and looked at the connection between fertility rates, women in the workforce and economic health. McDonald fears that countries with a low fertility rate, where couples are effectively having only one child, will face a desperate shortage of workers in 30 or 40 years' time. Hakim believes that paid maternity leave and good quality child care are not what most women really want. She argues that what most women want is for governments to pay them to stay at home, especially when their children are very young.

Three facts about fertility: Cross-national lessons for the current debate

Francis Castles

In a world where socioeconomic and cultural patterns are usually slow to change, there has been a radical reversal in the traditional factors that influence levels of fertility. In the debate about below replacement fertility and the policy instruments Australia might adopt to tackle the problem, appeals are frequently made to cross national experience, to consider the experience of countries that have already done the things that Australia may want to undertake. However, most appeals are made on an exemplary rather than an exhaustive basis. Commentators tend to choose the countries they discuss with an eye to making the cases of which they hope to persuade the reader. This paper seeks to supply a corrective to this tendency by being systematic, highlighting the conclusions that emerge from looking at the experience of the widest possible range of countries with which to compare Australia. In this article evidence from 21 OECD countries is used to describe the recent trajectory of fertility change in advanced industrialised countries, to identify changes in the nature of the trade offs between work and family and to establish which family friendly policy measures are most conducive to high levels of fertility.

Family law: Relationships, diversity and the law

Catherine Caruana

Families in Australia take many and varied forms, including blended families, sole parent families, families headed by same sex couples, and with children conceived from donor sperm. In this article the author asks how the law is responding to accommodate diversity in relationships and family structure. She provides an overview of social trends and an historical background in relationship diversity, and examines the current status of family law with regard to marriage, children residence and contact, financial support of children, adoption, and property redistribution.

Relationships, marriage and parenthood: Views of young people and their parents

Diana Smart

Australia's birth rate is now below population replacement rate, and continues to decrease. The author asks whether this trend is paralleled by diminished aspirations for marriage and parenthood. Data from the Australian Temperament Project (a longitudinal study of the psychosocial development of a large, representative of Australian children born in Victoria between September 1982 and January 1983) are used to explore the views, hopes, wishes and plans of teenagers and their parents for future relationships, marriage and family formation. The paper seeks to shed light on transgenerational influences by also obtaining the views of parents, as well as adolescents, on these issues. Three questions are addressed: What expectations do teenagers and their parents have concerning the young person's future relationships, marriage and parenthood? Are there differences in the aspirations between boys and girls? Are these aspirations related to family circumstances, interpersonal relationships, and personal characteristics?

Marriage, births and fertility

David de Vaus

A key purpose of marriage has traditionally been for the bearing and raising of children. Similarly, the only legitimate context in which to give birth was within a registered marriage. Over the last 30 years, along with the fertility decline, there have been major changes in marriage patterns, including a sharp decline in marriage rates and a steady increase in the age at which people marry. While the changing marriage patterns have largely mirrored changing fertility patterns, the link between marriage and children has been loosened substantially. In this article the author provides a brief picture of ex nuptial births, marital status of teenage mothers, timing of births within marriage, and attitudes about marriage and children over the last 30 years.

Lesbian parenting: Issues, strengths and challenges

Ruth McNair, Deborah Dempsey, Sarah Wise and Amaryll Perlesz

The Lesbian and Gay Families Project is a new study of lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and intersex families. This article focuses on aspects of the data collected from 136 women participants living in Victoria. The issues explored included family formation and methods of conception; reasons for choosing such methods; family structure including roles and responsibilities of the biological and non biological mothers and the biological father; levels of social and professional support; and an exploration of the self perceived strengths of and challenges for lesbian led families. Key findings are presented in each of these areas.

When the difference is day and night: Parent-child contact after separation

Bruce Smyth and Anna Ferro

Research into post separation parent child contact has focused almost exclusively on the measurement of the frequency of face-to-face contact. However, there is more to parent child contact than just time. The broad cultural, legal and policy push towards encouraging post separation cooperative parenting needs to be underpinned with detailed research that goes beyond simply measuring the frequency of contact between children and non resident parents. This article considers one important dimension that has attracted little attention to date: day-only contact versus overnight stays.

HILDA data launched: New survey on Australian households and families

Ruth Weston and Mark Wooden

The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Survey (the HILDA Survey) aims to yield insights into the dynamics of family relationships, parenting, housing arrangements, income, workforce involvement, and the health, wellbeing and attitudes of young people and adults in Australia. This article examines the potential for the survey to contribute to research on families in Australia. It summarises the case for another survey; provides brief descriptions of the survey design and sample selection; outlines issues covered by the survey; and describes data collection procedures, the first wave response rates and characteristics of the sample. The second part of the paper discusses the sorts of family issues that could be explored with these data.

New research: Relationship education services

Michele Simons and Robyn Parker

The Australian Institute of Family Studies in partnership with the Centre for Research in Education, Equity and Work undertook a survey of relationship education services across the country on behalf of the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services, known as the Study of Australian Relationship Education Services. This survey was to identify the nature and range of relationship education programs, identify gaps in service provision, and develop a classification system to distinguish among the various types of programs available. Recommendations made on the basis of the study pertain to various areas of service provision, including program design and development and the implementation of evaluation frameworks. This article outlines the outcomes of the study and the recommendations that emanated from it.