The Centre for Population of Australia has commissioned this report from the Australian National University to explain trends and drivers of fertility in Australia and better understand the impact of government policies on fertility decisions.
Modern life, particularly the ability to negotiate work and family lives, has led to declining fertility rates across high-income countries. Many individuals’ preferences for desired number of children are higher than the number of children that people eventually have, suggesting that there are barriers to having children. Over time, childbearing has increasingly been delayed to later ages, potentially contributing to fertility difficulties for couples if left too late in the reproductive lifespan.
This report includes three components: a literature review, an analysis of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) panel study, and questions about fertility intentions and family policies that were included in a survey of Australians.
The literature review demonstrates the importance of policies that provide stability and support for raising children, for participation in employment through parental leave and child care, and that reduce the financial costs for parents. It also points to the importance of shared gender roles supported by public policies which support both parents’ involvement in work and family, through the availability of leave and the provision of child care.
The HILDA analysis investigates the impacts that policies have on fertility using quasi-experimental methods. The policies considered include the introduction of the baby bonus, paid parental leave, paid partner leave, and adjustments to family tax benefits. The analysis does not provide convincing causal evidence of changes in births due to the introduction of these policies.
The survey analysis reinforces which issues are important to people when considering having children. Among the top five were the cost of raising children, the security of their or their partner’s job, the cost of housing, having someone to love, and their age.
Taken together, these components provide insight into the issues that Australian parents and prospective parents face when considering having a child, and what measures can be considered to support parenting. In a setting like Australia, where it is usual and expected that parents are involved in both paid work and raising of children, supportive family policies are needed to prevent a rapid decline in fertility.