What do birth rates mean for the future?
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What do birth rates mean for the future?

by Terry Rawnsley Director, Demographics & Urban Economics, Planning & Infrastructure Economics KPMG

November 23, 2022

The number of children born each year is an important determinant of Australia’s future population size and demographic profile. In the short-term, the number of births provides a leading indicator of future demand for services including child care and schools. In the long-term, the combination of low fertility rates and increasing life expectancies contribute to economic and fiscal challenges.


In 2021 there were 309,996 registered births in Australia, a 5.3 per cent (15,627 births) increase on the previous year. 2021 was the third highest number of registered births on record – only 2018 (315,147 births) and 2016 (311,104 births) were higher. Greater Sydney represented almost 22 per cent (67,928 births) of all births in 2021, followed by Greater Melbourne at 18.8 per cent (58,289 births), and Greater Brisbane at 10.5 per cent (32,486 births).


In addition to the number of births, the total fertility rate also provides insights into future population growth. The total fertility rate is defined as the total number of children that would be born (based on current age-specific fertility rates) to each woman. A total fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman would ensure a steady population. The total fertility rates presented in the table below are based on average age-specific fertility rates over the previous three years.

Regional Registered Birth & Total Fertility Rates

Australia’s total fertility rate has been below the replacement rate since the mid-1970s (although in 2008 it reached 2.02) and is broadly in line with the OECD average. The decline in fertility rates over the past 50 years has been the result of a complex interaction of social (e.g. delayed family formation, increasing use of contraceptives) and economic factors (e.g. women increasing their investment in education and more active labour force participation).


All the regions across Australia are below the replacement rate, with total fertility rates ranging from 1.46 in Greater Melbourne to 1.98 in Regional Western Australia. Capital cities have total fertility rates of around 1.6 compared with 1.8 in regional areas. This is reflecting the different economic and social profiles of the cities and regions.


The total fertility rate has declined in all regions since the onset of COVID-19. Greater Melbourne’s total fertility rate had one of the largest declines, falling from 1.58 in 2019 to 1.46 in 2021. This decline is related to COVID-19 impacting on people’s decisions to have children. A national survey indicated that around 20 per cent of women reported that COVID-19 had impacted their intentions to conceive. With the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 reducing, a rebound in total fertility rates can be expected in 2022.


In the long-term, there are a range of actions which could help to support child-rearing in Australia. This includes provision of more accessible childcare / early childhood education, more widespread and generous paid parental leave for both men and women. Access to affordable and appropriate housing would also likely influence the total fertility rate.


Understanding population growth trends, of which fertility is an important component, will help policy makers and planners understand the future demand for services and infrastructure across Australia.

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