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Birth Rate Blues

Dire predictions of social catastrophe from falling birth rates (technically ‘total fertility rate’) are prominent in a number of developed countries. Some modest recollections of John Ford, a retired Australian Government Actuary, reassure us that life still has a few surprises.

On commencing his career in the UK, John Ford discovered the 1949 Report of the UK Royal Commission on Population. After considering 16 different projections this Commission of leading demographers concluded ‘We can forecast with a good deal of confidence a substantial decline in the annual number of births over the next 15 years’. The actual outcome was of course the post-war baby boom.

Another of John Ford’s anecdotes is from 1984 when he presented a paper to the Australian Senate Commission on Superannuation. He relied on ABS projections of the birth rate increasing from 1.8 to replacement rate of 2.1. This assumption was in turn based on ABS ‘expectation’ surveys of young women and their family size expectations. What actually happened after 1984 was a reverse of the projection assumption with birth rates falling slightly further.

Community observations in 2005 are that there are 'lots of babies around' based on counting prams and child care waiting lists. Is it a boom again? We don’t know without making everyone stand still and counting them. We will have to wait for next year’s Census or when the ABS releases Births data for 2005 (November 2006 based on past release dates).

Posted Friday, 8 July 2005

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