No easy answer to baby drought

Turning around Tasmania’s decline in births would be difficult and could lead to unintended consequences, demographer Amina Keygan says.

The number of births in Tasmania has been falling for some years, including a 4.3 per cent decrease from 5935 in 2014 to 5680 in 2015.

Amina Keygan.

Amina Keygan.

​”Between 2011 and 2015, Tasmania experienced a decline in overall birth numbers by roughly 1000 births statewide,” Burnie-based Ms Keygan said.

“Almost half of this decline occurred between 2011 and 2012.”

Asked what could reverse the trend, Ms Keygan said increasing the birth rate in any population was difficult, particularly because pro-natal policies often had unintended effects elsewhere.

“For example, when more women in the population have children, more women tend to leave the workforce for a period of time due to caring responsibilities,” she said.

“This exacerbates dependency ratios for a short time, until, and if, women re-enter the workforce.

“Policies that make it easier overall to balance work and family responsibilities, and policies that encourage gender equity, both within families and the workforce, have been shown to affect both the timing and the number of children born.”

She said there were many factors associated with the decline in birth numbers.

“First and foremost, the size of the reproductive cohort -  that is, women in the population at childbearing ages - has been declining due to interstate migration losses. Put simply, there are fewer women in Tasmania who could have children.

“Second, there have been declines in the age specific fertility rates across most age groups in the reproductive cohort. That is, women are, on average, having less children.

“Finally, my research shows that women (and men) in Tasmania are actually having the numbers of children that they would like to have in line with their desired family sizes. That is, on average, they are achieving their desired and intended family sizes.”

Fairfax analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed more babies were being born at the western end of the Cradle Coast region, despite the eastern end having a significantly larger population.

Population had been declining at the western end and growing at the eastern end, mostly due to strong growth in the Latrobe municipality. Tasmania’s population is growing at its fastest rate in four years, but at less than one third of the national rate.

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