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Socio-economic Differentials in Fertility

Socio-economic Differentials in Fertility

Statistics New Zealand has just released a research report entitled 'Socio-economic Factors and the Fertility of New Zealand Women'. Using the 1996 Census data on children ever born to New Zealand women of all ages, it shows selected differences in childbearing behaviour, which enable an understanding of past, present and future population dynamics.

Many factors affect fertility levels. Past studies, both here and overseas, have found a direct correlation between fertility and education, income, religion, labour force status and marital status. However, latest findings based on the experiences of New Zealand women show that some factors have a smaller effect than expected. For example, the age at which women start childbearing does not correlate directly with the number of children they eventually give birth to. Nor does religion rank as a significant factor.

Similarly, while marital status is now partly incidental to fertility, work experience and the availability of employment are much more significant. The benefits of careers and the material advantages these give to women are important drivers in their decisions to bear children and in the development of social mechanisms to ensure their well-being. The causal link between education and fertility is also strong. Education not only provides women with independent access to information which they may otherwise be excluded from, it also provides access to a wider range of occupational opportunities. This may take the form of a career in the workforce, around which a family needs to be planned.

The report also discusses the revival of childlessness, which covers both involuntary and deliberate infertility. Cohort data indicates a marked decline in the proportion of women remaining childfree for cohorts born between 1900 and 1940, and an increase in childlessness among more recent birth cohorts. Among those aged 35-39 years in 1996, about 16 per cent (or one in six) had had no children.

This research report is the first of three companion studies on fertility differentials in New Zealand. It is to be followed by a detailed analysis of the relationship between ethnicity and fertility, while the third study will consider the spatial differentials.

This report is available on the Statistics New Zealand website (www.stats.govt.nz). See Socio-economic Factors and the Fertility of New Zealand Women.

Brian Pink Government Statistician END


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