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Misconceived fertility

By Chris Gallus - posted Sunday, 15 September 2002

Australia's ageing population has clear implications for future budgets. Of particular concern is the projected proportional decrease in the number of workers. In 2000, among those older than 15, there were 1.8 workers for every non-worker. On current trends, this will have fallen to 1.3 by 2040.

Unless we get more workers, or fewer dependants, governments will be unable to maintain services at current levels. Add to this the increasing health costs of an ageing Australia, and we have a burgeoning problem.

The solution most frequently canvassed has been to increase the birth rate. More babies today equal more workers tomorrow.


The implications of such a policy for women are chilling. Policies that encourage women to have more children can also take them out of the workforce.

Remember the 50s? The post-war era was one of great prosperity and stability – but it was also a time when women became stereotyped and their opportunities narrowed. The cheerful little woman cooked, washed, ironed, cleaned, looked after the children and waited on her husband.

If we return women to their homes as happy little breeders, as per the 1950s, we are in danger of creating a new generation of women who will spend the most productive years of their lives out of the workforce.

Clearly there are differences. In the 50s, women had few roles in the workforce outside those nurturing roles that mimicked motherhood - such as nurses, teachers and office assistants. Women now are running financial institutions, hospitals and political parties.

But the 50s came immediately after an era where women drove trucks, worked in factories and ran businesses. In the 40s, men were off at war and, responding to the need for labour at home, women took on the jobs that had been previously done by their husbands and brothers. When men came back from war, women went back into the home. Those women who had tasted independence, and liked it, found themselves isolated with limited career opportunities.

Social attitudes are surprisingly persuasive in directing behaviour. Support by our mothers and grandmothers for their apparent servitude was in the context of the prevailing social attitude where the joys of motherhood and housework were eulogised through magazines, newspapers, radio and of course, the greatest propaganda tool of all, movies.


Increasing the birth rate by itself need not drive women out of the workplace. But it is an inevitable outcome in a society where children and full time work are still not fully compatible. To be a good mother necessitates less time spent at the workplace, and to have a full time job necessitates less time spent with children.

If, in the current work climate, women have more children and continue to work they will suffer from anxiety over the welfare of their children, and they and their children will suffer because of the physical and mental burden of balancing family and work.

If mothers opt out of the work force, they will forgo the benefits of employment including social integration, social status, and financial independence.

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This article was first published in the August 2002 edition of Options, a journal published by Christopher Pyne MP. See

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About the Author

Hon. Chris Gallus MP is the federal Member for Hindmarsh (SA) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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