NZ Fertility Rate Continues To Plummet

Media Release 18 November 2020
New Zealand’s total fertility rate has reached an all-time low, with an average of 1.63 children per woman in New Zealand, well below population replacement level, and according to Stats NZ, “the lowest on record”.

The fertility rate for Maori women is higher at 2.05 – but still the lowest on record for Maori.

Stats NZ says that “the replacement level refers to a total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.1 children per woman in New Zealand, which equates to the average number of children each woman is required to have for the population to replace itself in the long term, without migration.”

A report last year from Family First NZ – Families: Ever Fewer or No Children, How Worried Should We Be? looked at the reasons behind falling fertility, and discusses what might be influencing future trends.

Report author Lindsay Mitchell says, “In the past, government policy could positively affect the size of families. The Universal Family Benefit strongly influenced peak fertility in 1961 when women had an average of 4.3 children. But as females have become better educated and increased their work force participation, more have chosen to have fewer or no children. Economic pressures like student debt and insecure employment play a role. And now they face additional pressure from environmentalists. Meanwhile, policy interventions appear less and less effective.”

The report examined the historical context of family size; identified some of the underlying factors affecting fertility rates, including deprivation, marital status, ethnicity and ageing mothers; discussed the implications of smaller families; and analysed some of the policies which could reverse the shrinking family. It also reviewed other countries’ efforts to incentivise fertility.

“To date, New Zealand has been complacent about its total fertility rate because firstly, it fluctuated around replacement rate for a long period, and secondly, it was higher than most other OECD countries. Now we are trending down to resemble many other European and Asian nations struggling to boost fertility. As New Zealand’s fertility rate falls progressively further below population replacement level, the need to address the issue becomes more urgent.”

“Without population replacement or growth, economies decline. A nation’s strength lies in its young: their energy, innovation, risk-taking and entrepreneurship. The new blood drives the exchange of ideas and experimentation. If these attributes aren’t home-grown, they have to be imported. At an individual level, single person households are the fastest growing household type in New Zealand. Increasingly people face old-age with few or no family supports.”

“Ultimately, whether or not people choose to have a child or children is a highly personal matter, but they shouldn’t be denied balanced information to help them decide.”


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