When last year’s ABS birth statistics were released, I doubted that the apparent increase in fertility was anything more than delayed births: it was older women driving the apparent baby boom, with age-specific fertility rates actually falling for women in their 20s.
But the 2007 statistics released today unambiguously report a baby boom. The total number of babies born was the highest ever, eclipsing the previous 1971 record, and every age group from 15-19 to 45-49 (even them, 506 babies, up from 438) is contributing to the increase. Women aged 30-34 were making trips to the maternity ward at a rate not seen since 1962.
Of course I remain a baby bonus/FTB sceptic. But I’d have to concede that a period of considerable prosperity for families, due in part to the rivers of taxpayers’ cash flowing their way during the Howard years, probably made a difference. From media reports of hospitals working beyond capacity, 2008 may break 2007’s record, and with many 2009 births already locked in it will probably produce big numbers too. The economic downturn will help us see whether higher fertility is driven by economics, or whether the cultural shift away from having children has started to reverse itself.