New Zealand’s birth rate has fallen well below replacement level. The average number of births per woman has fallen to 1.6 in 2021, the lowest ever, compared with its 1961 peak of 4.31 (which was in the final quartile of the post-war Baby Boom and was the year the Pill became available in NZ).
A total of 57,105 live births were registered in the year to 31 March 2021, representing a statistically significant fall from the 21st-Century peak of 64,341 births in 2008 and the all-time peak of 65,391 in 1962 (when the population was much lower; 2.42 million compared with 5.12 million now).
Despite continued growth in average life expectancy (around 82 years now, compared with around 63 years a century ago), the “natural increase” in population is now consistently below the death rate; meaning the population can only increase with continued immigration.
Another major change is a sharp fall in the number of teenagers giving birth and an equivalent rise in women over 40 giving birth. In 1980, the teenage birth rate was 38.2 per 1000 teen females. It is now 9.8 per 100. By comparison, the birth rate for women between 40 and 44 is now 13.42
The number of new mothers in their 40s now exceeds those in their teens for the first time. Many teen pregnancies now appear to be planned; as are pregnancies in women over 40. The growth in the latter appears driven by women choosing to start families later in life, and coincides with women having become a majority of those with tertiary education and many women enjoying careers.
The median age of women giving birth has risen from 25.7 years in 1980 to 30.8 in 2020. For Māori women it is 27.3 years, for Pasifika women 27.7 years, for Pākehā 31 years and “Asian” women 32.1 years.
These NZ trends are reflected around much of the world and may be linked to steady growth in the past 50 years in the proportion of women in higher education and the growth of the middle classes. Countries including Japan and many in Europe have sharply falling birth rates. So do formerly high-birth rate counties such as India and especially China, which abandoned its one-child-policy in 2015 from concern at having insufficient young people to support a growing elderly population, with no upward effect on birth rates.
World population is expected to peak at 9.7 billion in 2064 and decline to 8.8 billion by the end of the century.
All this is good news – for the status and position of women in societies; and for the reduction in the pressures on resources that were caused by the population growth of the past two centuries. The growth was caused by the very welcome advance of modern science with its resulting massive increases in health and life expectancy. Demand for resources will fall from mid-century, for the rest of this century and well beyond. Thus will modern science and education also solve the climate question so many people are alarmed by and which the media unthinkingly portray as the next Armageddon.