Birth rate down to record low

New Zealand’s total fertility rate reached its lowest recorded level in 2017 - down to 1.81 births per woman.

According to information released by Stats NZ yesterday, New Zealand women would average 1.81 births over their lifetime.

Although the number of births increased slightly (59,610 live births were registered in 2017, up 180 from 2016), the fertility rate still decreased. This related to the increased population size rather than fewer babies being born.

“While the fertility rate is now the lowest ever seen, the total New Zealand population continues to grow, driven by near-record levels of migration in 2017,” says population statistics senior manager Peter Dolan.

The lower fertility rate may lead to reduced population growth if it stays below the ‘replacement level’ of approximately 2.1.

The replacement level reflects the average number of babies that women would need to have over their lifetime to maintain the size of the population. The total fertility rate has only dropped below 1.90 births three times before, most recently to 1.87 in 2016.

New Zealand’s total fertility rate has been relatively stable for the last four decades, ranging from 1.81 births per woman (in 2017) to 2.19 (in 2008).

“In contrast, fertility rates increased dramatically following the Great Depression and World War II, peaking at 4.31 births per woman in 1961."

“New Zealand then experienced declining fertility over the following two decades.”

The reduction in birth rates since 2008 has been mainly driven by trends among women aged 15–29 years, whose birth rates are now at record lows.

In 2017, the teenage fertility rate dropped to 15 births for every 1,000 women aged 15–19 years, just under half the 2008 rate of 33. The teenage fertility rate peaked at 69 for every 1,000 women in 1972.


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