June 17, 1993

Article at Reuters

Birth rate in rich countries rising again - study

By Wilson da Silva

CANBERRA – Birth rates in most rich nations, falling since 1965, have slowly begun to rise under the apparent influence of social trends encouraging childbearing, an Australian scientist said on Thursday. 

In nearly every nation in northern and western Europe as well as Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, birth rates are rising again after reaching record lows in the 1980s, said demographer Lincoln Day of the Australian National University. 

“Most of the countries have experienced a slight increase,” Day told Reuters. “There are continuing declines in nine nations and five show small fluctuations. But most of the 31 countries studied are showing growth.” 

In a study to be published later this year, Day argues that the rise may be due to such factors as divorced women’s cementing of second marriages with children, expectations of larger families held by new immigrants and a greater appreciation of children in people’s lives. 

Day said the rising birth rates in rich nations may also reflect dissatisfaction with careers and modern society, leading to withdrawal “to the bosom of the nuclear family”. 

Australia now has an average of 1.91 live births per woman, down from an average of 2.91 in 1965. But the rate has been steadily rising from 1.84 in 1988. 

Day based the study on information compiled by the United Nations. 

The figures show that in Iceland, Sweden, the United States and New Zealand, birth rates now exceed the pace needed to maintain current population. 

Iceland leads at six per cent above this figure, followed by New Zealand at five per cent, Sweden at three per cent and the U.S. at two per cent. 

“In the past, divorce has tended to reduce fertility levels but there are indications that it may now be tending to increase fertility,” Day says. 

Divorced mothers who enter into another relationship may see “the birth of a child or two to the new union as something of a cementing factor, as well as a tangible expression of love and success following upon the earlier union”, Day says. 

Birth rates are also being boosted by immigrants from developing nations who arrive in countries like Australia, Canada and the United States and want larger families, according to the demographer. 

Rich countries that did not initially show dramatic falls in births after 1965, such as Italy and Spain, have seen their birth rates drop sharply in the past few years. 

There was an average of 1.26 live births per woman in Italy in 1991 and 1.24 in Spain, down on 2.55 and 2.97 in 1965 and far below the replacement level of about 2.1. 

“The highest rates of decline over the past two to three decades – in both absolute and proportionate terms – have taken place in those populations with the highest fertility levels at the outset,” Day says in the paper. 

Scientists ascribe this to new attitudes to sex, acceptance and legalisation of birth control and abortion, higher rates of women working, and a desire for smaller families – the same factors that drove birth rates down in other developed nations.