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Women having fewer children

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

SRHR in Focus

Women are having fewer children than ever, according to data released by Statistics New Zealand in February, with New Zealand recording its lowest ever total fertility rate in 2018 of 1.71 children per woman, down from 1.81 in 2017.

The total fertility rate (TFR) refers to the average number of babies a woman will have in her lifetime. The average number of babies per woman required for the population to replace itself without the need for migration is 2.1.

The highest TFR recorded in New Zealand was 4.31 children per woman in 1961.

Since 1980, the total fertility rate in New Zealand has hovered around an average of 2.0 children per woman, but since 2015 it has steadily declined. Other OECD countries have been following suit, with most TFRs among OECD countries now between 1.4 and 1.9 children per woman.

In New Zealand, it seems that while the number of births has decreased for every age group since 2017, the drop in the fertility rate is predominantly due to fewer births among women of child-bearing age under the age of 30. This group makes up half the women of childbearing age in this country.

Since 2002, it is women in the 30-34 age group who have been having the most children out of all age groups.

While the statistics do not tell us specifically why the fertility rates have been declining, this pattern has been seen internationally to go hand-in-hand with fewer infant deaths, women’s education and presence in the formal labour market being prioritised, and improved access to contraceptive methods. These factors help give women greater freedom to choose if and when they would like to have children. 

Of significant note is the teenage fertility rate, which has continued to decline, and is currently at 13.45 births per 1000 women aged between 15 – 19. This is the lowest ever recorded for this age group in New Zealand, having decreased by more than half since 2008, though still slightly above the OECD average for this age group of 12.4 births per 1000 women.

In line with teenage pregnancy rates falling, New Zealand Family Planning records show that there has been a (largely) steady rise in the number of women in the 15-19 age group getting fitted with long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) at Family Planning clinics over the past decade, with a particularly sharp increase in the uptake of contraceptive implants in 2011 when contraceptive implants became subsidised by the government.

It can be assumed that at least some of the decline in the teenage birth rate can be attributed to the increased uptake of LARCs among this age group and that removing the cost barrier for implants in 2011 played a significant role in this increased uptake.

Report on Maternity released

The Ministry of Health this month released its Report on Maternity, detailing health statistics about women’s pregnancies, giving birth and the babies born in the year 2017. They found that most women were registered with a Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) during their pregnancy and most did so within the first trimester. This is positive, as it has been well-documented that good, continuous maternal health care during pregnancy improves the health outcomes of both mother and baby, and the earlier this care begins in the pregnancy the better. They also found that close to 80% of babies born in 2017 were exclusively or fully breastfed at two weeks after birth, and fewer women were smoking during pregnancy and immediately after birth, suggesting that messages about how to best look after yourself and your baby are getting across to women.

For more information about current global fertility trends and what these mean demographically for the future globally, the United Nations Populations Fund State of World Population report for 2018 ‘The Power of Choice: Reproductive Rights and Demographic Transition.’  can be downloaded here:


Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.

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