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Births

The following highlights are based on births registered in New Zealand:

  • There were 62,543 live births registered in New Zealand in the year ended December 2009 – 32,112 boys and 30,431 girls.
  • The highest number of live births registered in one year was 65,390 in 1961.
  • The total fertility rate was 2.1 births per woman in 2009; 4.3 births per woman in 1961; and 3.1 births per woman in 1921.
  • Women aged 30–34 years had the highest fertility rate (123 births per 1,000 women aged 30–34) in 2009.
  • One in every four children born in 2009 had more than one ethnicity. Fewer mothers (around one in eight) had multiple ethnicities.
  • 67 percent of Māori children born in 2009 had more than one ethnicity.
  • In 2009, the median age of Māori mothers was 26 years, four years younger than for the total population (30 years). The median age for Pacific, Asian, and European women was 27, 30, and 31 years, respectively.
  • Māori women had a total fertility rate of 2.8 births per woman in 2009 and Māori women aged 20–24 had the highest fertility rate (156 births per 1,000 women).

Figure 2

 Figure 2, Live births and fertility rates.

Introduction

The last century witnessed significant changes in family size, reproductive patterns, and population dynamics. The transition in family size, from relatively large to relatively small families, was already under way when the 20th century began. The current fertility level should therefore be viewed as an extension of the fundamental changes that began more than 100 years ago. New Zealand women now have fewer children, later in their lives, and some remain childless.

Decreasing fertility rates have been accompanied by decreasing mortality rates. The transition from high fertility and mortality to low fertility and mortality has resulted in an overall increase in the median age of the population (known as population ageing).

Births

There were 62,543 live births registered in New Zealand in the year ended December 2009, down from 64,343 in 2008. The 2008 figure was the highest recorded since 1971, when 64,460 live births were registered. The highest number of live births registered in any December year was 65,390 in 1961.

Fertility rates and mother’s age

The total fertility rate is the average number of births a woman would have during her life if she experienced the age-specific fertility rates of a given period (usually a year). Age-specific fertility rates for the December 2009 year indicate that, on average, New Zealand women are giving birth to 2.1 children. This is about half the high of 4.3 births per woman recorded in 1961, which was supported by a dramatic trend toward early and near-universal marriage, and early childbearing. Forty years earlier, in 1921, the total fertility rate was 3.1 births per woman.

The level required by a population to replace itself in the long term, without migration, is 2.1 births per woman. Except for a brief recovery around 1990, New Zealand fertility rates were slightly below replacement level from 1980 until 2006. In 2007–09, an increase in the total number of births saw fertility rates increasing to around replacement level. Although sub-replacement fertility remains common in developed countries, there have been recent increases in fertility in other developed countries such as Sweden (up from 1.5 in 1999 to 1.9 in 2009), England and Wales (up from 1.6 in 2001 to 2.0 in 2009), and Scotland (up from 1.5 in 2002 to 1.8 in 2009).

Age-specific fertility rates measure the number of live births 1,000 women in a particular age group have in a given period (usually a year). Age-specific fertility rates (table 2.04) show a big drop in births to women aged in their twenties, especially from the early 1960s to the late 1970s. In 1962, there were 265 births for every 1,000 women aged 20–24 years and 259 for every 1,000 women aged 25–29 years. This had dropped to 134 and 143 per 1,000, respectively, by 1978. In 2009, the birth rate for women aged 20–24 years was 77 per 1,000 and 107 per 1,000 for women aged 25–29 years.

In the December 2009 year, women aged 30–34 years had the highest fertility rate (123 births per 1,000 women aged 30–34 years). However, these women still have fewer babies than in 1962 (152 per 1,000). Fertility rates for women in their thirties decreased during the 1960s and 1970s but have been increasing since the 1980s. The birth rate for women aged 35–39 years in 2009 (70 per 1,000) was only slightly lower than in 1962 (75 per 1,000). However, their fertility rate had dropped to a low of 20 per 1,000 in 1981.

Fewer New Zealand women in their teens are having a child compared with the 1960s. The birth rate for women aged 15–19 years increased from 54 per 1,000 in 1962 to 69 per 1,000 in 1972, before dropping to 30 per 1,000 in 1984. It has hovered around 31 per 1,000 ever since and was 29 per 1,000 in 2009.

Fertility rates for women aged 40–44 years dropped from 23 births per 1,000 in 1962 to around 4 per 1,000 in the mid-1980s, before increasing to 15 births per 1,000 in 2009. Among women aged 40–44 years who registered a baby in the December 2009 year, 70 percent were aged 40 or 41 years.

The median age (half are younger and half older than this age) of New Zealand women giving birth is now 30 years, compared with 26 years in the early 1960s. The median age dropped to just under 25 years in the early 1970s. Although there has been a significant increase in the median age since the 1970s, it has been relatively stable at around 30 years in the past decade.

Cohort fertility

In general, if there is a significant trend towards having children at a younger age, the total fertility rate tends to overstate the number of live births a woman is likely to have over her lifetime. If there is a significant trend towards having children at an older age, the total fertility rate tends to underestimate the number of births a woman is likely to have.

The cohort fertility series traces the fertility experience of women born in a particular year. The completed fertility rate is the average number of births a woman born in a particular year has had during her life. The completed fertility rate for women born during the 1930s was about 3.5 births; however, the total fertility rate in the early-1960s suggests that these women would have had 4.1 births. In contrast, women born during the 1950s had a completed fertility rate of about 2.4 births per woman, compared with a total fertility rate of about 2.0 births per woman during the early-1980s.

Ethnicity

Mothers and babies may belong to more than one ethnic group. For example, a baby who has both Māori and Pacific ethnicity would be recorded in both ethnic groups. As a result, the ethnic group totals do not sum to the number of births. Within the broad ethnic groups (for example European) each birth is counted only once. For instance, a child whose ethnicity is recorded as Chinese, New Zealand European, and English is counted once in the Asian ethnic group and once in the European ethnic group.

A baby's ethnicity tends to reflect the ethnicities of both parents. In 2009, 75 percent of births registered belonged to only one ethnic group, 22 percent belonged to two ethnic groups, and 3 percent belonged to three ethnic groups. Just over half as many mothers (13 percent) as babies (25 percent) identified with more than one ethnic group.

In the December 2009 year, 67 percent of Māori babies and 49 percent of Pacific babies belonged to two or more ethnic groups. In contrast, 68 percent of European babies and 71 percent of Asian babies belonged to only one ethnic group.
The total fertility rate for the Māori ethnic group in the December 2009 year was 2.8 births per woman, well above replacement level (2.1 births per woman).

In the December 2009 year, the fertility rates for Māori mothers under 25 years of age were more than double the fertility rates for the total population in the same age groups. However, the fertility rate for the total population exceeded the rate for the Māori population in the 30–34- and 35–39- year age groups. The fertility rate for the Māori population was higher than the total population in all age groups above 40 years of age. Māori women aged 20–24 years had the highest fertility rate (156 per 1,000) followed by those aged 25–29 years (144 per 1,000).

Fertility rates for the major ethnic groups (based on the mother’s ethnicity) are only available for the census years 2001 and 2006. They are calculated using live births over a three year period centred on a census year and can be accessed from the births tables on the Statistics NZ website. These indicate that the fertility rate for Pacific women was 3.0 births per woman, 2.8 for Māori women, 1.9 for European women, and 1.5 for Asian women, in 2006.

Regional fertility

The Auckland region had the highest number of births in the December 2009 year (22,605), accounting for 36 percent of all live births registered in New Zealand. This was followed by the Canterbury (7,163), Wellington (6,791), and Waikato (6,147) regions. Together, these four regions accounted for just over two-thirds of all live births registered in the December 2009 year. This is consistent with their share of New Zealand's population.

Regional variations in fertility are marked, and tend to reflect the characteristics of the population in the area. For example, low fertility in Otago reflects the high number of young women studying in Dunedin. These young women tend to delay childbirth until they have completed their studies, by which time they are likely to have moved to other regions.

Fertility rates for regions are only produced for the census years 1996, 2001, and 2006 (table 2.09). As with the fertility rates for ethnic groups, they are calculated using live births over a three-year period centred on a census year. Gisborne and Northland had the highest total fertility rate (both 2.7 births per woman). Otago (1.6 births per woman) had the lowest total fertility rate.

More information

The following information on births is available on the Statistics NZ website:

Time series data is available from the Infoshare database. Births and birth rates are available from two subject groups in the Population category:

  • Birth rates – DFM
  • Births – VSB.
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