Education and fertility differentials in Australia

Ann Evans, Australian National University
Edith E. Gray, Australian National University

Like many countries, data from Australia demonstrate differentials in fertility. In other Western-industrialized countries a considerable amount of research has been conducted on the disparities in fertility by education. Many studies have shown that education has an effect of delaying first birth, and is associated with the time taken to invest in education and establishing a career. While first births are delayed at higher levels of education, it is on the lower progression to higher parities which researchers tend to focus. Some studies have found a weaker education gradient for second births, often (although not always) contributed by shorter birth spacing for higher-education women. Similar results have been found for progression to third births. We focus on the effect of education on fertility behaviour, using HILDA (Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia). Funded by the Australian Government, HILDA is a longitudinal panel study of Australian adults aged 15+. For the purposes of this paper, HILDA contains annual retrospective and prospective data including information on education, employment, socio-demographic characteristics, as well as relationship status and timing of all births. Following Kravdall (2001) and others since, we use event-history using joint modelling of having a first, second, and third birth which takes into account selection effects. Preliminary results show that first birth is delayed for higher-education women, consistent with previous studies. Australian women who have completed university education are also more likely to remain childless, although this effect has been declining in younger cohorts. For second births, there is little difference in progression by education, although spacing is shorter for the higher educated. For progression to third birth, those with higher education are less likely to have a third birth, although the magnitude, while statistically significant, is not large. This pattern of parity progression explains Australia’s comparatively high ‘low’ fertility rate.

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Presented in Session 94: Education and fertility 3