Changing education, changing fertility: A decomposition of completed fertility in Australia

Changing education, changing fertility: A decomposition of completed fertility in Australia

The expansion in education in Australia, particularly for women, is one of the most significant social changes of the last five decades. The relationship between education and fertility has been widely studied, and increases in higher education for women are consistently associated with lower fertility. Given the close link between education and fertility, this paper questions what effect the changing educational profile of Australian women has had on overall fertility trends.
This seminar investigates the effect of the increase in education on completed fertility by decomposing the change in overall completed fertility into two components: (1) change in completed fertility as a result of the proportion of women in different education categories and, (2) changes in completed fertility of women in each education category. Using 2016 Census data we compare the number of children ever born to five cohorts of women born between 1952 and 1976. Decomposition is used to separate the effects of the two components on completed fertility.
We find that the educational composition of women in these cohorts is dramatically different, with an increasing number of women having completed tertiary education in later cohorts. Completed fertility has also changed across successive cohorts of women. For the earliest cohorts most of the decline is due to declines in completed fertility within education categories, but for later cohorts the decline is attributable to increases in the proportion of women with higher levels of education. In particular the composition effect of the growing number of women with a Bachelors degree and the shrinking proportion of women who have not completed high school have contributed to this decline.
We conclude that despite tertiary education becoming much more common, fertility within this group remains lower than other education groups. While other countries have seen a narrowing of the gap in fertility rates between education groups, this pattern is not found in Australia.

Edith Gray is Head of the School of Demography in the ANU's Research School of Social Sciences. She has led a number of research projects in the area of family demography, including ‘Inequality of first family formation’, ‘Living apart together in Australia’, and ‘Repartnering in Australia’. She has been a Chief Investigator on six Australian Research Council Discovery Projects on family formation, fertility, dissolution and life course trajectories.Edith also provides research expertise through government and non-government consultancies, is a Council member of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, is the immediate past Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Population Research (2007-2014), and is the Convenor of the forthcoming 20th Biennial Australian Population Association conference.

Ann Evans is a Senior Fellow in the School of Demography. Ann’s primary research interest lies in the area of inequality and family demography, and she undertakes research in the following areas: cohabitation and marriage, relationship formation and dissolution, fertility and contraception, young motherhood and migrant settlement and family formation.


Ann is the Interim Dean for Higher Degree Research at ANU and President of the Australian Population Association.



Date & time

Tue 12 Nov 2019, 11:30am to 12:30pm


Jean Martin Room, Beryl Rawson Bldg #13, Ellery Circuit, ANU


Assoc. Professors Edith Gray and Ann Evans


Susan Cowan


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