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Policy-makers must tackle job insecurity to arrest the decline in Australia’s fertility rate which has hit an all-time low, according to an ANU academic.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies has issued the most comprehensive study to date on people’s decisions to have or not have children.
The Federal Government-funded report reveals most Australians aged 20 to 39 want to have children but employment and relationship insecurity put them off.
The head of the Australian National University’s Demography and Sociology Program, Professor Peter McDonald, said yesterday that the report reinforced common beliefs about the reasons behind the declining birth rate.
In 2004, the Federal Government outlined initiatives — including a 30 per cent child-care rebate, offering a $3000 baby bonus and boosting the family tax benefit — to address some of the financial issues.
As he handed down his 2004 Budget, Treasurer Peter Costello urged Australians to have “one [baby] for the father, one for the mother and one for the country”.
Professor McDonald said the maternity allowances, which would reach $10,000 by 2008, would have some influence at the margins among couples already considering having children.
But employment insecurity was still an issue, with increasing casualisation of the workforce and the popularity of short-term contracts.
Australia’s fertility rate has hit an all-time low, with 1.75 babies per woman which is well below the level needed to maintain the population.
The result is Australia’s population is ageing and may shrink if the fertility rate falls further which will have social and economic consequences for the country.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies wanted to “get inside people’s heads” to discover their reasons for having or not having children.
The results are based on a national random survey of 3201 Australians aged between 20 and 39 years — 1250 men and 1951 women.
Two-thirds of male and 41 per cent of female respondents were childless but only 7 to 8 per cent definitely did not want children.
Their reasons ranged from practical concerns such as age, lack of a partner and health issues to a dislike of children, financial and lifestyle choices, concerns about being a good parent, a belief the world was not good enough for children and concerns about overpopulation.
Most men and women wanted children and believed two was ideal but one in three reported they expected to have fewer children than they would like.
The issues considered important in fertility decisions included the couple’s capacity to financially support the child and the capacity to be good parents.
The male partner’s job security was rated highly, along with having somebody to love, the female partner’s age, and uncertainty about the future of the relationship.
In contrast, only one in four men and women rated the impact on their social life and ability to make major purchases as factoring into the fertility decision.
“Despite Australia’s economic prosperity, people remain concerned about their capacity to create and maintain a family environment in which children can be nurtured and supported financially and emotionally,” the report said.
(Posted on February 2, 2005)