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Fertility rates and gender equality

By Judy Maddigan - posted Tuesday, 2 April 2002

While immigration is necessary in Australia to increase population levels to sustain and develop our communities, it is interesting that there are also ways to increase fertility in western societies.

Ms. Lena Sommestad has written:

"The present demographic situation in Europe and elsewhere, with low birth rates and aging populations, highlights the impact of gender relations and family life on economic development.


According to a growing body of research, countries that fail to restructure their societies in line with modern women's demands for equal rights and responsibilities run the risk of curbing population growth, accelerating the aging of the population, and, in the longer term, slowing down economic growth."

There is an increasing amount of research available describing the link between fertility rates and gender equality. In some countries where there have been definite policies to support gender equality there has been an increase in fertility rates.

Following the decline of fertility rates to below replacement levels in western societies in the 1960s, in some countries fertility rates have recovered, such as Sweden and the United States of America, where the participation of women in the labor market is common.

Countries like Spain and Italy have lower rates of participation in the workforce and also have lower levels of fertility.

Taking Japan for example, it had a fertility rate in 1997 of 1.39 and this rate has been falling over a number of years. Japan's fertility rate is the second lowest, after Germany, among developed nations.

A number of gender issues have been identified as being relevant to this low fertility rate:


1. the levels of higher education in Japan are low, especially for women.

2. The ratio of female teachers to total teaching staff is lower than every country in the areas of primary, secondary and higher education.

3. Women have lower rates of matriculation than men in Japan (and Germany).

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This is an edited version of a speech given in Victorian Parliament on 20 March 2002 following the recently held Population Summit.

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About the Author

Dr Judy Maddigan is the Member for Essendon in Victoria.

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