Dewi Cooke, The Age (Melbourne), June 3, 2006
Two-day-old Xavier Molloy is part of a new baby boom.
Bureau of Statistics figures show the number of births in Australia rose by 2.4 per cent to 261,400 last year, 6200 more than in 2004.
It is the biggest increase since 1992 and demographers suggest it could signal the beginning of the end for Australia’s so-called “fertility crisis”. The fertility rate had been declining steadily for a decade and is only beginning to recover.
First-time parents Katrina and Chris Molloy looked on their newborn son with joy at the Royal Women’s Hospital yesterday.
Mrs Molloy, 29, a midwife, said that having Xavier came down to the right timing, age and circumstances.
“I didn’t want to leave it any later because things become more complicated the older women get,” she said. “You’re more likely to get pregnant at a younger age and have less complications and your birth will be a lot easier. There are just so many more benefits the younger you are.”
“And it just felt right,” Mr Molloy said. “At the end of the day, the Government baby bonus doesn’t really weigh in at all.”
But Treasurer Peter Costello has not shied from taking some credit for the rise.
“Well, I did encourage parents to have one for mum, one for dad and one for the country,” he said.
“Here we are two years later and some have taken up the challenge: the highest birthrate in 13 years — 261,000 children — and that is a good thing for the future of our country.”
Professor Peter McDonald, head of demography at the Australian National University, said that incentives such as Canberra’s baby bonus and the family tax benefit could be contributing factors in the rise in births.
“The impact of the maternity payment is not just about the money, although the money is not to be sniffed at,” he said.
“I think the policy also has a psychological impact beyond the financial value. The Government providing support to those who have children kind of makes a social statement as well. It says that if you have children we’ll value your contribution.”
Other reasons for the increase could include greater awareness of the potential problems women face in conceiving at a later age and health concerns about having children past the age of 40.
“A lot of media attention has been given to the ageing of the population but also to the fact that if you don’t have your kids now you might miss out,” said Ruth Weston, principal research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
“I think women have probably become more aware that they can’t just put it off forever.”
The Bureau of Statistics data shows that the Australian population grew by 242,300, with a natural increase contributing 54 per cent to the growth. Immigration contributed the other 46 per cent.
The 2006 population census takes place on August 8.