Tuesday, February 28, 2012

CFZ - The Book Serialised - Facts and Figures


Facts and figures

{Serialisation note:  Obviously the figures shown here are somewhat obsolete now. They come directly from the published edition of the book. The fact is, the numbers of CF people has only grown since this time.}
Australians are marrying later, starting a family later in life and having fewer children.
Based on 1996 fertility rates, 75.1% of all women can expect to have at least one child in their lives and 58.2% will have at least two, 16.9% will have only one child, and 24.9% of women will remain childless. Since the mid-1980s approximately one in four women has remained childless.
That’s almost a quarter of Australian women now of child-bearing age who are expected to remain childless. People are often surprised when confronted with these figures. But the number of childless women is growing: some sources now suggest that up to 29% of women will not be mothers. While it’s impossible to break the percentage down into those who are unable to have children and those who choose not to, the rapid increase in the number of childless women since the early 1970s tells us that more than natural forces are at play.
Number of children that women bear
Years
No children

One child

Two children

Three children

More than three children
1985 to 1991
25.3%
13.6%
27.4%
11.5%
37.3%
1980 to 1984
23.7%
2.6%
32.6%
19.3%
23.8%
1975 to 1979
21.8%
9.2%
28.8%
18.2%
20.2%
1970 to 1974
10.3%
10.2%
29.5%
15.1%
19.9%
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996.
Based on data from the 1986 Census, 18.3% of women born in 1909 did not have children. They were 25 years old in the middle of the Great Depression. In comparison, of women born in 1936 who were 25 at the peak of the ‘baby boom’, only 8.6% did not have children. This is called ‘generational fertility’ and can only be calculated accurately after women have completed child-bearing at the age of about 50. It can be calculated for women born after 1965, as shown in the table above, using the projected age specific birthrates but is unreliable.
In Australia in Facts and Figures (1994) Bill Coppell points out that the number of women having babies in the 20 to 24 and 25 to 29 age groups has dropped considerably, while the birthrates for women aged 30 to 34 and 35 to 39 has increased. Couples now tend to start a family later in life, and the delay often becomes the reason they choose not to have children at all. The decision is delayed until suddenly they realise they are no longer able to have children, or that their lives are full and happy without them. Age specific birthrates – the number of live births registered in one year according to the age of the mother, per 1000 females of the same age – also reflect changing attitudes to child-bearing. In 1964, peak fertility was among 24-year-old women, with 23% having babies. By 1994, peak fertility was among 29-year-old women, but only 13% had babies.
In the late 1950s the average duration of marriage before the first pregnancy was 1.3 years. By 1990 this had increased to 2.3 years. It is taking longer to become established as a young family. Today, the duration of marriages is also having an effect on people’s decision to stay childless. It is increasingly common for marriages to end in divorce, and some people are concerned that they may not be able to provide a stable future for a family.
Australia’s fertility rate ranks equal fourteenth lowest in the world, part of a worldwide phenomenon that is particularly noticeable in developed nations. It peaked at 3.5 children per woman in 1961 during the ‘baby boom’ period and, by 1996, the fertility rate had fallen to 1.8. The population replacement level is 2.1 children per woman, and Australia’s fertility rate has been below that since 1976. This has not been attributed to improvements in contraception, rather linked to the increasing participation of women in the workforce and changing attitudes to family size, standards of living and lifestyle choices.
Fertility varies between states, regions and even suburbs. The Northern Territory has had consistently higher fertility rates than other states, and the ACT has the lowest fertility rate. Within capital cities, the inner city suburbs have the lowest fertility rates. In 1994 Central Melbourne and the eastern suburbs area of Sydney had the lowest fertility rates with 1.1 and 1.2, respectively, indicating that people who have chosen a life without children often live in the inner city. Conversely, people in the outer and fringe suburbs either choose to have more children or move there to give their growing families more space.
An increasing number of people are becoming alarmist about the fall in the birthrate. In an article by Felicity Dargan in Melbourne’s Herald-Sun in 1998, Mary Helen Woods from the Family Planning Association said ‘plunging birthrates are a sign that we no longer live in an altruistic society. Selfishness and hedonism have taken over’. A Liberal member of parliament in Victoria made it part of her political agenda, urging ‘selfish career women’ to become mothers to reverse the plummeting birthrate. Even the then Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett was heard at a Melbourne school in 1999 encouraging teenage girls to breed to halt the declining population. The arguments are always more emotional than rational, and based in a long-rooted history of ‘blaming’ someone for the decline in the birthrate.
However, despite low fertility rates, latest estimates say that Australia’s population is growing at the world average of 1.3% a year, which is far higher than most other developed countries and even higher than South-East Asian nations such as Thailand. It is only 0.2% behind Indonesia which, with more than 216 million people, is the fourth most populous nation in the world. Australia’s population growth rate is 50% higher than that of the US and more than six times the rate in the UK. In the US, the population is growing by much greater numbers, but by a smaller percentage of just 0.8% per year. Australia’s population, which continues to grow through the immigration program and through increased life expectancy, reached 19 million in September 1999 and will hit 24.9 million by 2050 if neither migration nor the birthrate fall.
The lobby group, Australians for an Ecologically Sustainable Population, aims to encourage informed public debate about how population numbers affect the need to preserve Australia’s ecological heritage. Its membership information claims that:
·         In the last 50 years as much land was cleared as in the 150 years before 1945.
·         Because our birthrate is twice our death rate we are locked into a population increase of two million before our population stabilises – even if there were no immigration at all. Current levels of immigration, plus natural increase, will see our population continue to grow.
·         Decisions about population are political decisions. Our population will reach 20.7 million before it can stabilise, but it doesn’t have to reach 27 million and still be growing by 2051.
American political humourist P.J. O’Rourke outlines an alternative account of the ‘overpopulation problem’ in his book All the Trouble in the World. He does a series of rough calculations and works out that the world is not really overpopulated at all. World fertility rates peaked a while ago and, even in the poorest countries, fertility rates dropped 30% between the late 1960s and the early 1980s. If this trend continues, world population growth could reach replacement level by 2005, when the UN estimates there will be 6.7 billion people. At the current population level, O’Rourke says, we could all live in Europe in a California-style suburban sprawl with 2250 people per square mile, with most of Russia west of the Urals left over for landfill. He says: ‘This leaves us with the question of what people really mean when they say the world is overpopulated. What these concerned citizens usually mean is that they’ve seen a whole bunch of the earth’s very ordinary people up real close, and the concerned citizens didn’t like what they saw one bit.’
This is probably true: a quick trip to the local shopping centre is sometimes all you need to confirm that having more children is not going to help the world.
Statistics can always be used to prove different points. The facts are that the world population is still ballooning, the world’s resources are finite and increasingly stretched, and an increasing number of Australians are choosing not to have children.

An historical perspective

In the mid-nineteenth century it was normal for married women in Australia to produce six or seven children. By the turn of the century the average had dropped to three or four. There was such widespread concern over the declining birthrate that, in 1903, a Royal Commission On the Decline in the Birth-rate and On the Mortality of Infants was instigated in NSW. In 1904 the Royal Commissioner reported that ‘the cause or causes of the Decline of the Birthrate must be a force or forces over which the people themselves have control...’ – in other words, even then, people were deliberately limiting the size of their families.
The blame apparently lay with women, who exhibited ‘an unwillingness to submit to the strain and worry of children; a dislike of the interference with pleasure and comfort involved in child-bearing and child-rearing; a desire to avoid the actual physical discomfort of gestation, parturition and lactation; and a love of luxury and social pleasures’. When motherhood is described in those terms, can you blame women for not wanting to be a part of it?
In her book Love and Freedom – Professional women and the reshaping of personal life (1997), Alison Mackinnon points out how odd it is that women were blamed for the declining birthrate, when the primary method used by middle class couples to avoid pregnancy was withdrawal or coitus interruptus, which of course requires cooperation from the male. Mackinnon reports that the Royal Commission rejected a vast amount of evidence that showed couples simply could not afford more children.
Early this century, Australian women were admitted to universities and could vote in federal elections. Among educated women there was a growing belief that fewer children who were well loved and cared for, were better than many children with less chance of a happy and healthy life. Working class women were also having fewer children, but financial hardship was more likely to be the motivating factor.
In the 1950s couples could afford to live on one income. It was often still expected that a woman would cease employment once she was married. There was also a post-World War II swing against women working outside the home as they had become so independent during the war. Many women had to fight to retain the right to work, when male bosses encouraged them to become homemakers.
Survey respondent Jan, a registered nurse, was married in 1962, at the age of 21. While she never felt pressure from her own family to have children (‘my mother asked once when she was to be a grandmother and was given the reply “never”; so the subject was not discussed again’), it was unusual and less acceptable for couples to choose the child-free path.
‘These were times when it was generally expected [that] women married young, rarely travelled before marriage and were not independent in financial matters,’ said Jan. ‘They did not own their own cars or houses and mostly lived at home with their parents until marriage. Rarely did women have university degrees, most left school as soon as they reached 15 and worked in what was perceived as “female” positions. The assumption was that they would get married, produce children and stay at home to be a mother and so a tertiary education was not considered important unless one came from a family of professionals.
‘It was generally expected that after a few years of marriage, children would eventuate. Contraception was a hit and miss affair, with diaphragms, condoms and the rhythm method to name a few, and many unplanned pregnancies occurred. The Pill was coming into vogue permitting some degree of choice in planning a family. Still it was unusual for a couple not to reproduce, and stranger still that they would choose not to have children.
‘After we had been married for about four years, I had one well-meaning lady who knew there were no children on the scene pat me on the arm and whisper, “Never mind dear, you can always adopt.” She could not understand when I explained we had chosen not to have children. Her generation had little choice, although in the 1960s, it was still expected for couples to follow the “norm”. Couples today do make decisions not to have children and up to a point, their decisions are more accepted than in the 1960s.’

Despite the rapid change in social attitudes in the last three decades, anecdotal evidence tells us that there is still a widespread expectation that couples should become parents.

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