Changing education, changing fertility: a decomposition of completed fertility in Australia
Background The expansion of education in Australia, particularly for women, is one of the most significant social changes of the last five decades. The relationship between education and fertility has been widely studied, showing that increases in higher education for women are consistently associated with lower fertility. Given the close link between education and fertility, this paper questions what effect the changing educational profile of Australian women has had on overall fertility trends.
Aims This paper investigates the effect of the increase in education on completed fertility by decomposing the change in overall completed fertility into two components: (1) change in completed fertility as a result of the proportion of women in different education categories and, (2) changes in completed fertility of women in each education category.
Data and methods The study uses 2016 Census data on the number of children ever born of five cohorts of women born between 1952 and 1976. Decomposition is used to distinguish the effects of the two components.
Results The educational composition of women in these cohorts is dramatically different, with an increasing number of women having completed tertiary education in later cohorts. Completed fertility has also changed across successive cohorts. We find that for the earliest cohorts most of the decline is due to declines in completed fertility within education categories, but for later cohorts the decline is attributable to increases in the proportion of women with higher levels of education.
Conclusions Despite tertiary education becoming much more common, fertility within this group remains lower than other education groups. While other countries have seen a narrowing of the gap in fertility rates between education groups, this pattern is not found in Australia.