Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sooner babies means more babies. It's a boom.

Australia is in the grip of its biggest-ever baby boom with a record 293,600 babies born last year - 11,400 more than the year before.

Roughly one third - 94,700 - were born in NSW.

Births in this state are climbing faster than in any state other than Western Australia, increasing 5.8 per cent between 2007 and 2008 compared to the national increase of 4 per cent. Births in Western Australia jumped an extraordinary 9.2 per cent.

"It's taken people by surprise," said Australian National University demographer Peter McDonald.

"It's putting strain on schools, childcare centres and maternity wards at the same time as our population is ageing."

Women aged 30 to 34 led the way producing 128 babies per 1000; more than any other age group and the highest rate since 1961...

Women aged 35 to 39 produce more babies per thousand than at any time since 1948.

Nursing their newborns at the Mater Hospital on Sydney’s North Shore yesterday were 33 year old Nelly McGrath from Balgowlah on Sydney’s northern beaches and Lynelle Rivers, 35 of Woollahra.

For both it was their second child and they said the time was right.

"I don’t know whether it’s got to do with not missing out or if it’s an age you get to and think my biological clock is ticking. When I was 20 there was no way I wanted to fall pregnant," said Mrs MrGrath.

After years of declining the fertility rate for women in their early 20s increased for the second successive year in 2008.

"Improved economic conditions have a lot to do with it, and I include the baby bonus in that," said Professor McDonald.

"But there's something else, an increased public discussion of the importance of not waiting too long. Two or three years back there was a lot of discussion about it in women's magazines, and several books; one by Virginia Haussegger in Australia and one called Baby Hunger in the United States. They seem to have got people thinking."

The Bureau of Statistics reported that Australia's so-called Total Fertility Rate crept up further to 1.97 expected babies per woman per lifetime, the highest rate since the 1970s and within spitting distance of the 2.1 needed to maintain Australia's population by births alone. But Professor McDonald warned that the rate might not last.

"Women are bringing births forward, we know that. Having done that they are able to have more births over their lifetimes, but we don't yet know whether they will."

A record 34 per cent of last year's babies were born to unmarried parents, up from 19 per cent two decades earlier. On only 3 per cent of birth certificates was no father acknowledged, the lowest proportion yet.

Last night in Melbourne Rudd government backbencher Kelvin Thompson launched a 14-point plan to contain what he called Australia's "runaway population".

Among the measures was winding back Australia's annual immigration program from more than 200,000 to 70,000, abolishing the Baby Bonus and restricting family benefits for third and subsequent children.

Published in today's SMH and Age

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