Newborn Grace Redman with mum Kaye. Picture: Liam Kidston.
Newborn Grace Redman with mum Kaye. Picture: Liam Kidston.

Why Queensland is in a ‘child drought’

QUEENSLAND is experiencing the mother of all problems as birth numbers slide and thousands of women opt not to have children at all.

Experts warn the child drought could have lasting health, economic and social implications.

Latest Queensland Health statistics show there were almost 3000 fewer babies born in the last financial year than in 2012-13.

The total number showed a decline from 63,512 to 60,520 over the five-year period and the drop-off almost exclusively involved the under-30 age bracket.

Women in the 30-39 age group had 30,164 babies in 2017-18, up 899, while women over 40 had 2209 children last financial year, slightly down from 2355 in 2012-13.

Sandra Hogg, 42, of Kenmore with baby Archie.
Sandra Hogg, 42, of Kenmore with baby Archie.

University of Queensland School of Public Health Professor Gita Mishra said as well as deferring having babies, an increasing number of women were having none, the figure up from 14 to 22 per cent.

Prof Mishra said the reason young women were putting off or not having children was linked to being more educated and focused on career opportunities than previous generations.

"This (older motherhood) can be bad for the health of mums and babies," she said.

Prof Mishra said women should not be judged for deferring having babies, and a better support system might encourage more to become mothers earlier.

"We need to improve the infrastructure … better day care, more flexibility around workplaces … additional economic support. This would allow women to have babies and return to work if they wanted to," she said.

Demographer Bernard Salt said there were a number of factors that affected birth figures. He said numbers rose and fell due to economic confidence, or lack thereof.

He said they had "kicked up a bit" post-2000 when Australia was in a more prosperous period, coinciding with the baby bonus which came after Australia saw its lowest fertility rate ever - 1.7 in 2001.

A total of 309,142 births were registered in Australia in 2017, resulting in a total fertility rate of 1.74 babies per woman, the lowest since 2001.

Latest available data shows in Queensland the fertility rate was 1.77 in 2017, having dropped from 2.121 in 2007.

University of Queensland School of Public Health Professor Gita Mishra.
University of Queensland School of Public Health Professor Gita Mishra.

The fertility rate of Australian women aged 35 years and over continues to rise, but the rate is falling in most other age groups, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

While there was conjecture over whether the baby bonus policy made much of a difference, research pointed to a modest increase in "fertility intentions" due to the bonus, which was $3000 in 2004, rising to $5000 in July 2008, then dropping back to $3000 in 2011 before being abolished in 2014.

One study pointed to the cash incentive contributing to 24,000 additional kids.

"As well as the economic confidence issue, more younger women are now committing to tertiary education and career building," Mr Salt said.

"They are saying 'that's how I'm going to spend my 20s and I will have one or two children in my mid-30s when I'm established in my career'."

Mr Salt said the trend had implications for society and fewer babies could see Australia become more reliant on immigration to sustain population growth.

Queensland Fertility Group fertility specialist Professor Hayden Homer said the number of women waiting to have children had seen a surge in those seeking IVF.

Prof Homer said many women were not fully aware of how quickly egg quality declined during their 30s and what impact this had on their chances of having a child.

He said due to the higher incidence of damaged eggs, falling pregnant at an older age brought a heightened risk of miscarriage and congenital abnormalities in babies.

"You can't really tell people to have children younger, but … something single women can do proactively is freeze eggs when the eggs are young and good … when the woman is in her late 20s, early 30s," Prof Homer said.

"That's the best security available at present, but by no means is a pregnancy guarantee.

"Some of the big companies in Silicon Valley actually pay for their staff's eggs to be frozen," he said.

Briana Platt, 22, of Sippy Downs, is happy to wait until her late 20s or early 30s to have children. Picture: Lachie Millard
Briana Platt, 22, of Sippy Downs, is happy to wait until her late 20s or early 30s to have children. Picture: Lachie Millard

Health data analyst Sandra Hogg, 42, of Kenmore in Brisbane, said a combination of travel, career and not meeting the right person until later in life had made trying for a child an uphill battle.

She was 36 when she and husband Greg started trying for a baby and they gave up when she hit 40 after several miscarriages and a few unsuccessful rounds of IVF.

"Nothing worked and we were resigned to the fact our future would be without kids and then I fell pregnant at 41 and had Archie," Ms Hogg said.

"When we were trying IVF, there were many older mums and this is obviously a growing trend."

Briana Platt, 22, of Sippy Downs, said she was happy to wait until her late 20s or early 30s to have children. She recently gained a Bachelor of Business degree and has just started work with an event company.

"It is definitely not a priority at the moment. I want to focus on work and establish my career first," she said.