One in four Australian women to remain childless, says report

About 1 in 4 Australian women will remain childless by the end of their reproductive lives, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Australia's birth rates are lower than they have ever been and national fertility rates are continuing to fall. Australian women now give birth to an average of 1.75 children during their lives compared with 2.9 children in the 1970s.

The replacement level fertility rate (the number of children a woman needs to have to replace both herself and her partner) is 2.06.

Delayed child-bearing, an increase in the number of women having no children, and a decline in the number of women having three or more children have all been associated with lower fertility rates.

Reproductive Health Indicators Australia 2002, written by the AIHW's National Perinatal Statistics Unit at the University of NSW, was commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing in response to growing national and global interest and a need for comprehensive framework in reproductive health.

The report presents a snapshot of Australia's reproductive health status, by systematically measuring a set of 44 core reproductive health indicators. It highlights a lack of nationally available information in almost half of the indicators on infertility, family planning, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

The findings show that Australia's reproductive health compares well with other developed countries.

Australia compares well in terms of maternal mortality, proportion of low birthweight babies, teenage fertility rates, access to family planning and the incidence of reproductive tract diseases and cancers.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Mortality rate for infants aged less than 1 year was 5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. The proportion of low birth weight infants was 6.7% of all births.
  • It is estimated that male infertility affects 1 man in 20 in Australia.
  • Knowledge of HIV prevention practices in the community is very high.
  • Incidence and death rates for cervical cancer have fallen over the last 10 years, partly due to national cervical screening programs, while the rates for ovarian cancer have remained constant.
  • The national caesarean rate is 22%, the highest yet recorded. This is comparable to other developed nations, but above the 15% figure recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • The quality, breadth and cohesiveness of information available on reproductive health in Australia should be strengthened.

28 March 2003


Further information: Dr Elizabeth Sullivan, NPSU, tel. 02 9382 1014
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032