Australian Bureau of Statistics data released today showed that 265,900 births were registered in 2006, the second highest since the record 276,400 births recorded in 1971.
The baby bonus rate changed during the year, but on my estimates that would have cost taxpayers $950 million. So did nearly a billion dollars buy us an increase in the number of babies being born?
A closer examination of the statistics suggests not. The number of babies born per 1,000 women in their twenties, physically the most favourable time for having children, has declined since the baby bonus began, continuing a long-term trend. What’s driving increasing fertility is a big increase in the proportion of women in their 30s having kids. The number of babies born to women aged 35-39 is up more than 20% since 2003, to 48,505 in 2006.
What this probably means is that we are seeing the effects of a cohort of women delaying having kids, causing first a drop in births when previous 20-something motherhood did not happen, and then a surge when, in their thirties, these women finally got around to having a family. The low birthrates observed in the current 20-something group suggests that they too are postponing children, and that the baby bonus is having little effect on the total number of babies who were ever going to be born.
Nor is there any sign here of those perhaps most susceptible to financial incentives, such as teenage girls, having kids to get the money. Teen births are declining.
The vast sum of money being spent on families – and the baby bonus is petty cash compared to the FTB – does not seem to be having any effect on family formation and there is no clear evidence that they are reducing divorce. All it does is make families more affluent, but also more reliant on the welfare state, than other households.
Update 30 October: The Age this morning, after time to read the ABS figures more carefully, has a better headline: ‘No rush to have kids in Australia’.