The continuing decline in cohort fertility and mixed evidence of narrowing educational differences


Background   Typically, women with higher levels of education have had fewer children and were more likely to be childless compared to those with lower levels of education. However, in recent years, there has been a trend of fertility convergence between education levels in several high-income countries, including Australia. New data are needed to determine whether this trend has continued and fertility remains educationally stratified among Australian women.

Aims   Using the latest available data from the 2021 Australian Census, the aim of this study is to compare the average completed fertility and number of children ever born of women born between 1952 and 1981, with a specific focus on how these metrics vary by education level.

Data and methods   Data on the number of children ever born are sourced from the 2021 Australian Census to compute population statistics (completed cohort fertility, proportion of women by parity, and parity progression ratios) for six educational categories (postgraduate, graduate, bachelor, diploma, year 12, year 11 and below) and six cohort groups (1952-56, 1957-61, 1962-66, 1967-71, 1972-76, 1977-81). These statistics are used to describe trends in fertility patterns over time and by education.

Results   Completed cohort fertility has continued to decline slowly, from 2.22 for the1952-56 birth cohorts to 1.89 for the 1977-81 birth cohorts, mostly due to an increase in childlessness and a decrease in larger families with more than two children. There has been more divergence than convergence by education level, with those with bachelor's or diploma qualifications experiencing greater declines in fertility than any other education group. Although childlessness rates by education level have converged, women with lower education have also become increasingly likely to have larger families.

Conclusions   While there is evidence of convergence in childlessness rates across different levels of education, the gap in fertility rates between education groups continue to increase in Australia.


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How to Cite
GrayE., & LazzariE. (2023). The continuing decline in cohort fertility and mixed evidence of narrowing educational differences. Australian Population Studies, 7(1), 1-16.
Research Papers