Baby, it’s gone: Fertility crashes to record low – Sydney Morning Herald

Across Victoria, of the 79 council areas tracked by the ABS, just 10 of them have registered a fertility rate increase since 2012. All of them are in country areas with the highest in the West Wimmera Shire at 2.77.

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It's a similar story in NSW, where of the 128 council areas tracked by the ABS just 25 have recorded a fertility increase since 2012. Only 2 of those are in the Sydney basin, with small lifts in the growing areas of Camden and Wollondilly.

The ABS figures also show it is getting more difficult to find a pram in traditional baby-heavy middle and our suburbs.

In Melbourne, the fertility rate has since 2012 fallen by 21 per cent in both Whitehorse and Maribyrnong council areas, by 20 per cent in Darebin council, by 16 per cent in Glen Eira council and by 11 per cent in Moreland, Manningham and Knox.

In Sydney, the fertility rate has since 2012 fallen by 22 per cent in Willoughby council, by 18 per cent in Parramatta and Georges River council areas and by 17 per cent in Ryde and Strathfield.

Dr Kathryn MacKay, a bio-ethicist from Sydney Health Ethics at the University of Sydney, said cost was a major factor in driving down the fertility rate or delaying the start of a family.

"The costs of living are rising for most families across Australia, and people are going to have fewer children because children are more expensive all parts of life are more expensive," she said.

Last year's federal budget assumed a rise in the nation's fertility rate to 1.9 babies in 2019-20 but this was slashed in this year's fiscal outlook.

The fertility rate is expected to fall even further, down to 1.59 next year before recovering slightly to end the decade at 1.62 per cent.

The fall in the rate is estimated to result in 258,000 fewer babies by 2024.

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President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Dr Vijay Roach said over his career he has noticed an increase in the age of women having their first babies.

"Then by virtue that women are older, its likely women are going to have fewer babies," he said.

"If you start having children in your late 30s, you're not going to have time to have more children."

Aimee Crouch, 40, and her husband Dave Miles, 43, of Elizabeth Bay in the City of Sydney council area welcomed their first child Mary four months ago. She said if they had met in their early 30s, they would have planned to have three or four children, but because of their ages they would probably only have one more.

"I thought I was quite old [when I had Mary] but I have noticed women around my age or older are having children and may be hesitant to have a third or fourth child," she said.

Ms Crouch said the cost of raising a child "didnt stop me or affect me", but it may be something she considers if she had more children. She was still surprised by the data showing low fertility rates because she had seen many young families in her suburb.

"Ive noticed heaps of people, especially in Elizabeth Bay, with babies," she said.

Dr MacKay said home ownership, particularly in urban centres, has become much more difficult for millennials and younger generations.

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There is no data yet on the fertility rate during the pandemic, but Dr MacKay expects it to have a lasting impact, up to five years into the future.

"Theres the immediate impact which is stress and disruption, couples who have been forced apart," she said.

"A lot of people were really economically affected and will be starting over in different ways. I definitely think that will have an impact on the number of births."

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Shane is a senior economics correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Rachel Clun is a federal political reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, covering health.

Esther Han is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald. She has covered state politics, health and consumer affairs.

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Baby, it's gone: Fertility crashes to record low - Sydney Morning Herald

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