Across the developed world women are having fewer and fewer babies.
In Singapore the birth rate is so low the government has started up a dating agency.
John Howard hasn't gone quite that far, but his Treasurer Peter Costello has urged us all to have one child for mum, one for dad and one for the country.
The average age of a new mother is now thirty years old. Most of these mothers will not have as many children as they had once hoped, and one in four women won’t have any children at all.
The Treasurer says the $4000 baby bonus is lifting the birth rate in Australia – but is it really? Could the government be doing more to make parenting easier for men and women in their twenties and thirties?
What are the implications for countries with declining birth rates?
Insight looks at the international perspective, from the baby bonus in Australia to Japan’s 'shoshika' crisis (meaning a society without children) to Sweden’s unswerving commitment to gender equality in the workplace.
Insight will hear from Australians facing decisions about having a family. Are finances and work the key factors? When is the right time to have a child?
We ask are we having a baby boom or are there still plenty of reasons not to have kids?
JENNY BROCKIE: Peter McDonald, I'd like to go to you first. You're a demographer and you look at birthrates. Are we having a baby boom at the moment in Australia?
PROFESSOR PETER MCDONALD, DEMOGRAPHER, ANU: Yes, certainly, a leap of 15,000 in one year is very substantial and I don't think it's going to stop. I think 2006 will be bigger again.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you think the Government's policies have actually had an impact and we're looking at a real trend here?
PROFESSOR PETER MCDONALD: I think there is an impact from the pure financial benefit, for some people who are making close calculations, but I think the main benefit from the Government policy is more of a psychological benefit, that it's more or less a statement saying that if you have children, then the Government supports you know, we all support you if you have children.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you see it as a long-term trend, it's not just a blip?
PROFESSOR PETER MCDONALD: Yeah, I think it's a long-term trend. And, indeed, maybe Australian women are starting to have their births at a slightly younger age, and if that's the case, then the birthrate could remain high for quite some time, for 10 years.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think, Pru Goward? Do you think it's a blip or is it a long-term trend?
PRU GOWARD, SEX DISCRIMINATION COMMISSIONER: I think it's a combination of, as Peter says, more family friendly policy, women realising that you can't have babies in your 40s, that all those myths and wonderful television stories are wrong – you have to have them earlier. I think it's also the consequence of sustained prosperity. Our living standards have doubled in 20 years. We've been in a terrific period of sustained growth and that gives people confidence, but I think there are limits on that. I would be surprised – but then I'm not a demographer – if it kept going. I think other things have to change.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why would you be surprised if it kept going, Pru?
PRU GOWARD: Because I think the evidence is actually that we're having one-child families. The number of one-child families has gone up significantly in 20 years. And I think the time use surveys show that that's because in Australia when you have a child, the amount of unpaid work done by the mother in addition to her paid work actually goes up, and the unpaid work done by fathers goes down. And I think women just find that once you've been through all that with the first child you're not going to do it again.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why would you have any more? OK. I wonder what you think, Bernard Salt, because you're a demographer as well. Do you think it's a reliable trend or is something else at play here?
BERNARD SALT, KPMG: I actually think that there are several factors behind the most recent baby boom. Certainly we have improved economic activity, there's a greater awareness of fertility decline after 35 in women, but also I think that there is what I'm calling a 'baby boom echo echo effect'. A lot of the women having their babies now were born in the early 1970s and those women born in the 1970s, in a baby boom echo, were born to women born in the late 1940s. So what we're seeing now, to some extent, is an echo of an echo of the original baby boom.
JENNY BROCKIE: So there's just more women to have babies?
BERNARD SALT: There's just more women in their 30s having babies. And I think that also leads to an osmosis effect which makes the having of babies fashionable, if you like. Combine that with the baby bonus, combine that with prosperous economic times and you have a baby boom.
JENNY BROCKIE: Given that you think it's echo echo, do you think it will last?
BERNARD SALT: No. In fact I think this boom will peter out by the end of decade. If you look at the values and lifestyles of young Generation Y, these people are not making commitments to marriage, mortgage, children or a career. They are footloose and fancy free. If you look at their values, they are unlikely, I think, next decade to suddenly embrace the having of children. So I think we'll settle back to earth at the end of this decade.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, we're going to talk to a few people with those sort of lifestyles in a moment. But Kristen, can I first of all ask you about your decision to have children. You're 25, you have three, is that right?
KRISTEN CARLISLE-JONES: Correct.
JENNY BROCKIE: How old are they?
KRISTEN CARLISLE-JONES: I have an 8-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, why did you have them so young, and why did you have three?
KRISTEN CARLISLE-JONES: Well, because I love my kids, that's why I had three. It was just the right thing for me. I was raised by a young mother – she was 21 when she had me – and I always felt that I would be a young parent because the relationship that I have with my mother is fantastic. I feel I relate really well to my children because of my age, and it was just the right thing for me to do.
JENNY BROCKIE: Was it unusual for you to do, with your peers?
KRISTEN CARLISLE-JONES: Definitely, definitely. None of my friends from school have had children. They've all focused on their careers instead. And all of my friends with children I've actually met through having my children.
JENNY BROCKIE: And did policies make any difference? Did you feel more inclined to have children because of any government policy?
KRISTEN CARLISLE-JONES: Not at all. In fact the baby bonus wasn't announced until I was already pregnant with our last child. So we did receive that and it certainly helped but it never factored into it at all.
JENNY BROCKIE: Wayne, you're Kristen's partner. What drove your decision? Was it the same reasons as Kristen, to have kids?
WAYNE BRIGGS: Very, very similar, yeah. Kristen already had one child when I met her, who was quite young, and then she fell pregnant with my son and that was just fantastic, I was just over the moon. And sort of after we'd had my son for a little while, we discussed having another child and now we've got three.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did financial things, considerations come into it at all?
WAYNE BRIGGS: No, not at all.
JENNY BROCKIE: Not at all?
WAYNE BRIGGS: No, none of the baby bonus or anything came into it. We liked having kids.
JENNY BROCKIE: What about you, Rebecca? You're 30 with a 2-year-old and another one on the way. Has any of the Government's decisions, have any of the Government's decisions influenced you in having children?
REBECCA ROSS: No, I don't think so. Children had always been part of the plan for myself in the long run. I established a career first and then we were very conscious of making sure that we had plenty of time from an age perspective should things not go to plan. But it just felt like the right time, when I hit 27, to have a baby. But the baby bonus doesn't go anywhere. And we knew that that doesn't even begin to cover the cost of a child.
JENNY BROCKIE: So will you have a third one for Peter Costello, do you think?
REBECCA ROSS: I think the cost of child care is prohibitive. The $4,000 doesn't go far once you pay for obstetrician's fees. But to have three children in child care is a prohibitive factor.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK. So that's the thing holding you back, the cost of child care?
REBECCA ROSS: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Right, that's interesting. Despite the increase, of course, the birthrate in Australia is only 1.8 and replacement rate for the population is 2.1, so the birthrate's still roughly half what it was in the '60s, which I think is interesting. Wendy Andrews, you're married and you're in your early 30s. Do you want to have children?
WENDY ANDREWS: Not at this stage, perhaps at some later stage. But at the moment the practicalities of having a child just don't make sense when we're in a family where my income is more than half the family income and we've got a mortgage, and if we took out my income, we'd simply get evicted. So having a child and bringing a child into that environment is just not a smart move for us at the moment.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you're in your early 30s?
WENDY ANDREWS: That's right, yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK. So the clock's ticking. Jane Searle, you're 24. Do you want to have kids?
JANE SEARLE: Definitely not, no. I've never been a maternal person. It probably sounds selfish but I'd rather spend my time, my money and my resources on myself, living overseas, learning different languages, chasing career ambitions. And if you don't want children, you don't have, you don't place that time line of, “Oh, God, I've got to find a man by the time I'm 30 to have kids,” you don't have that restriction, it's quite freeing.
JENNY BROCKIE: How old are you now?
JANE SEARLE: 24.
JENNY BROCKIE: Will you change your mind, do you think?
JANE SEARLE: No, I won't change my mind.
JENNY BROCKIE: You get sick of people asking you that, don't you?
JANE SEARLE: Yes. And it's not ambivalence towards children. I often actively dislike children, so it's not just It's not like I'm not sure. I really don't like children.
JENNY BROCKIE: There are people like that, I'm told. Wendy Sharp, what about you? You're 34, you're in a relationship. Do you want to have children?
WENDY SHARP: Not at this stage, no, thank you.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why?
WENDY SHARP: I don't feel ready. I don't feel ready and I've never felt the need to have children and I don't think that will change.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well, let's have a look at what's happening in the rest of the world because other countries are facing a real population crisis. Last year Japan had its first year of peacetime population decline, and if that trend continues, Japan's population could shrink by more than 20% by the year 2050, here's Skye Docherty.
THE JAPANESE BIRTHRATE DECLINE:
REPORTER: Skye Docherty
For a tiny country, Japan has a large population but it's not growing. It seems Japanese people have lost the urge to breed and Japan now has one of the lowest birthrates in the world. They've even invented a word for it, 'shoshika', which means a society without children.
WOMAN 1 (Translation): Kids cost money and the way kids are growing up today, it's not a good environment. In all that I don't see any benefit in raising a kid. It would just be painful.
MAN 1(Translation): She's right. I wouldn't want to raise a child in Japan.
MAN 2 (Translation): Do we want a baby? You answer.
WOMAN 2 (Translation): If I got pregnant, we'd have one. But we're not ready yet.
Steep drops in marriage and partnering rates are the number one cause of Japan's low birthrate. Shinobu Azawa is an office worker and is having problems finding a partner.
SHINOBU AZAWA (Translation): I'm not married either. So I don't want a child yet. I'm not necessarily happy to be single. But until I meet the right person, I don't really think I need to marry.
She doesn't have high-flying career plans, but she works long hours and doesn't have a lot of time to look for Mr Right.
SHINOBU AZAWA (Translation): I don't see myself as career orientated. I'm working to make a living. I've worked in the job long enough so I'd quit if I had a child.
She says other friends who have partners aren't sure they want children.
SHINOBU AZAWA (Translation): I know some couples who don't want a child. They're worried about finances and they don't want to lower their living standards, and choose not to have kids.
The older generations in Japan grew up in a world where they had jobs for life and financial certainty. This is no longer the case. But still the elderly would like to see the younger generation having more babies.
WOMAN 3 (Translation): I suppose they want to enjoy life while they're young.
WOMAN 4(Translation): I don't think they can see much stability in the future.
MAN 3 (Translation): Japanese people today don't think much about the future. I mean, the young people.
The Japanese Government is gravely concerned that if the birthrate doesn't lift dramatically, there will be labour shortages, an ageing society and a huge population decline. It could push Japanese society into a serious crisis.
SHINOBU AZAWA (Translation): The population of Japan is definitely going down. We'll have no choice but to rely on foreign workers. But there are quite a few countries like that in the world. I'm aware that Japan is going down the same path.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well, Peter McDonald, Japan is just one example of one country in crisis. What's happening in the rest of the developed world at the moment?
PROFESSOR PETER MCDONALD: Well, the developed world really breaks into two groups, two main groups – those that have very low fertility rates, that's under 1.5 births per woman, and those that are above that. And there is a real cultural divide – the countries that have the very low birthrates are all of the advanced east Asian countries, all of the southern European countries, and all of the German-speaking European countries.
JENNY BROCKIE: And why do you think that is? Are there theories as to why some countries are going that way and others aren't?
PROFESSOR PETER MCDONALD: I think the essential theory is that these are all histories these are all countries that have history of a kind of family orientation, and that's led to a long history where family and state are kept separate and the state has not provided support to families in those countries, there's no tradition of family support in those countries. But the countries that have birthrates above 1.7, almost universally they are countries where there is a history of support from government to families.
JENNY BROCKIE: Peter, why does it matter, why does it matter if countries have low birthrates?
PROFESSOR PETER MCDONALD: Well, it matters very substantially. If you have a sustained low birthrate, it does have a massive impact on labour supply. So Japan, for example, in the next 40 years is facing a drop in its labour supply of 20 million workers. Now, you can't replace 20 million workers through migration, otherwise Japan becomes not Japan, it becomes something else.
JENNY BROCKIE: I wonder if that's happening in Singapore, as well, Eugene Tan. Your government's very worried about the birthrate there. Tell us what's happened to the birthrate in Singapore.
EUGENE TAN, SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNI: Well, the birthrate has plunged quite dramatically. We're now at 1.24 and so we're way below replacement level. So annually there's a deficit of about 20,000 babies and that's a concern for the government because of the growing economy. But I think of larger concern to the government is actually the even lower birthrates for the majority ethnic Chinese community. They are coming in at about 1.08 births per woman, so in terms of maintaining the sort of ethnic stability that the government believes lies in maintaining the relative racial proportions, that's really a big concern. So they have done a lot to try to boost the population figures but I'm not sure whether the slight increases are sustainable in the long term.
JENNY BROCKIE: And why do you think it's happening, Eugene?
EUGENE TAN: Well, I think I can identify with a lot of factors that were raised in the audience in Australia. You know, it's a question of attitude, it's a question of economic priorities, it's a question of socialisation. I think in the very highly stressed, highly competitive environment here, parents tend to make sure that they have…they provide enough for their children. And so the concern with, the fact there is a high cost of living, that doesn't really give room to have more than, say, two children. So the Government's actually trying to encourage to have three, you know, but I think now they're trying to settle for two. Let's just replace the parents.
JENNY BROCKIE: So forget the one for the country, just have one for mum and dad. Peter, it wasn't that long ago we were talking about overpopulation. What's happened? I remember it wasn't long ago at all that everybody seemed to be worried about the world being overpopulated.
PROFESSOR PETER MCDONALD: Yeah, certainly back in the beginning of, you know, the 1960s we were projecting the world's population in 2050 to be hitting 16 billion. That's primarily the growth in developing countries. That's come down very dramatically and now we're talking about 9 billion at that time. So we've actually wiped off 7 billion people from the projection of the world's population.
JENNY BROCKIE: Gentleman here, yes?
MAN: I was just going to say people have been talking a lot about the social and cultural factors that are preventing women from having more babies, but I think there are a lot of legislative barriers as well that are in place that prevent a lot of people from having families. I'm talking specifically about same-sex families. There's legislation like the Victorian Infertility Treatment Act, the intestacy laws – there are a lot of laws in place that really discriminate against not only the parents but the children who are in those sort of families as well. So I think if we really want to encourage families to if we really want to encourage people to have more babies, we need to make it possible for everyone to have children.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think about that, Pru? Is that a reasonable point
PRU GOWARD: Obviously the more people feel able to have children, the more children you'll have. I also think children are a bit contagious. I was one of four. The baby boomers – babies were all around you, you were babysitting at 8 or 9, you were looking after nieces and nephews. You now have a generation of young people who “It's a baby!” They've never actually had to touch a baby until they're in their 20s. If you grow up not being conscious of the joy of babies and the smell of them
JENNY BROCKIE Andrew Stephens, I wonder what you think about the point that Pru made about babies being contagious. Are they contagious for you?
ANDREW STEPHENS: I don't think they're contagious as such but certainly I've never wanted to have children, and my wife, who couldn't be here tonight, she doesn't really want children at the moment.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is she working by any chance?
ANDREW STEPHENS: Yeah. But I'm very much a weekend dad. I've got a niece and I love playing with her and stuff and that's fine, but I just want to give her back at the end of it and go off back home and do what I want to do.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think you might feel differently about that? What is the main thing that Is it because you don't particularly like being with kids, like we heard earlier, or is it something else?
ANDREW STEPHENS: No, I don't think that. I think everyone is right, really. I think that all the factors that everyone's spoken about tonight are really a reason for not having kids. There's just so much in the world to say noWHEREas – like people were saying – 20 years ago it was a very family orientated affair. And I think, in a way, equality is something that we haven't really touched on.
JENNY BROCKIE: Does that mean that for some men accepting that women go out and have careers in that way means that they don't want to take on the extra responsibility of having kids that's involved if you don't have a full-time at-home parent?
ANDREW STEPHENS: No, I think in a way it's helping me enjoy life more because my wife works, she's bringing money in as well, so we both go out, we both enjoy life. And there is that selfishness inside that says, “Well, I'm actually quite enjoying myself, why would I want to have kids?” And there's that responsibility there that you have to take on and I'm not really prepared to do that. I'm still, you know, too selfish, I want to go out and have fun.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why is it different now, Bernard? Why are people rattling off lists and lists and lists of things they have to do before they can have a child?
BERNARD SALT: I think there's been a shift in the perception of children in mainstream Australia. Kids have gone from the centre of mainstream Australia to the edge, over 30 years. If you think back 30 years ago, look at popular culture, what our television programs were – it was 'The Brady Bunch' which focused around children, Darrin and Samantha Stephens in 'Bewitched' lived in the 'burbs, had a family, if you like. Compare that with popular television today – name one television program that revolves around children. 'Friends', 'Seinfeld', 'Sex and the City', 'The Secret Life of Us', 'Bridget Jones', are all based around singles and couples. 'Everyone Loves Raymond' is the only one that I can think of and there I don't even know the names of the kids. That program revolves around the adults. So society has shifted from a child-centric version in the 1960s to an adult-centric society today.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, Kristen, what do you think listening to all this?
KIRSTEN CARLISLE-JONES: Well, what I'm hearing over and over again is the financial aspect, which I agree with because that's one of the biggest issues facing my friends who don't have children. I actually think that's one of the real benefits of having children young because we've had our kids and now we're building our careers so it's not a matter of sacrificing our careers, and we've..
JENNY BROCKIE: How are you doing that with three small children at the same time? That's, I think, what people find daunting.
KRISTEN CARLISLE-JONES: We juggle, basically. My partner works full-time, I work part-time, I study full-time as well as being the primary career, we share both being the primary carers for our children. But the thing is that we didn't have a standard of living that was so high that we didn't want to give it up. We never had a chance to become selfish. We've never had the opportunity.. It's true. We have never had the opportunity to say, “Me, me, me, this is what I want and I'm not going to settle for anything less,” because our entire adult life has been about our kids. They have always come first and we don't question it.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, Jacinta, what do you think when you hear that?
JACINTA TYNAN, AUTHOR: I hear that and a part of me thinks, “Damn, I wish I'd thought like that when I was your age.” It just wasn't an option in our 20s. We were very much I mean, my socioeconomic group, I guess, university educated, it was a given that you would get your career and you would make sure you were established before you even thought about getting a husband, let alone marriage. But I've had friends who said when the baby bonus was announced, “Give me the 4,000 bucks and I'll pay a guy to have a baby with me.” The financial incentive isn't part of it at all. But the other thing that's happened in our age, which I really feel I should mention, is there's a primeval urge that's kicked in for women in their mid-30s, and men as well I'm noticingWHERE anything financial, anything around the social network doesn't matter any more. It's just this urge kicks in, which I've experienced myself, I just want one and I have to do it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Alision Gee, you're a fertility expert. What sort of patterns are you seeing and what's the average age of the people you see? Because we've heard a lot tonight about delaying having kids to do other things or to get financially secure. What do you see?
DR ALISION GEE, SYDNEY IVF: Well, I think probably the average age of the patients I see is probably around about 35, 36, 37, around about that age group. And I think they're quite classic of what we've been talking about this evening – is that couples are making that decision to have a family a little bit later, and often that is because they have met later. They're not meeting in their early 20s and starting a family then. They're meeting in their early 30s. They're doing travel, they're getting careers established, so about 35 they're starting to want to have a family, and then some of them are experiencing difficulties. So for a range of different reasons, that's around about the time that couples do, I find, decide that they want to start having a family, and unfortunately that's a time from a fertility perspective that your chances are starting to become significantly less.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, now take us through the fertility situation for women, first of all, just so the facts are on the table.
DR ALISION GEE: Well, I guess for a woman, so for a woman up to about her 30s, or say in mid-20s, your pregnancy chance is probably about 25% a month. You get to 30, it's about 20%. Women at 35 have a pregnancy rate per month of just over 15%. You get to 40, it's about 7%. And by 45, it's almost only about 1% of women per month are able to conceive. So there's quite a dramatic decline for fertility for women, particularly between the age of 40 and 45. So I think from a fertility perspective the message is that it is better to start earlier with a family…to achieve a family, particularly if you do run into trouble because if you're starting in your mid-30s, you're trying for a year or two, you're getting to the age of 37, 38, even if you are going down the assisted reproduction route, IVF, the pregnancy rates are largely age dependent.
JENNY BROCKIE: So when you hear people who are, say, at 33, 34, saying, “Yes, I do want to have kids at some stage,” as a fertility expert what do you think when you hear that? Because that is the general perception I think a lot of people have.
DR ALISION GEE: I sort of think, “Well, you should start…you should be thinking about starting now.” And look, assisted reproduction rates do hold up fairly well until women are 35. So, you know, whether you delay a year or two, you know, between 30, 31 or even 34, but once you get to 35 the rates are significantly less. So for women at 33 I would be saying start think about trying now because if it gets to a year or two down the track and you're not pregnant, your chances are going to get less with whatever sort of treatments.
JENNY BROCKIE: Jacinta, what about you? When you heard that speech, how did you react?
JACINTA TYNAN: Obviously, we're well informed, we know those statistics, but I have to say it's not very responsible for me, especially as a journalist, but I tend to avoid reading that kind of stuff and hearing about it because it makes me really sad and it makes a lot of my friends sad. It's like I don't want to know. I'm just hoping that I will be one of the lucky ones that can get through.
JENNY BROCKIE: Pru Goward, you've said Australia's only done half the job when it comes to enabling women to have babies or people to have families and balance careers. What else should the Government be doing?
PRU GOWARD: Well, I think a lot of it is about encouraging all parents, that is fathers as well as mothers, to feel that they can take advantage of family friendly flexibilities so that the strain is not just on that one parent, who is doing most of the juggling, and who at the end of it thinks, “I really can't go through this again.” So, I mean, you come back to that whole idea about ensuring that men take feel able, as the Swedes do, to take paid paternity leave. In fact I think they have a 'take it or lose it' leave. I think a number of countries are thinking about that option. And that's all about building relationships from right from the beginning of a child's life. And the earlier you build them, apparently, the stronger the bonds are.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, so you think that that question of maternity leave is absolutely essential?
PRU GOWARD: I think that's very important. But I just think it's also to do with just attitudes towards equality. At the moment equality means women can work and have children. Equality should mean women and men can work and women and men can both be involved parents.
JENNY BROCKIE: Gunnar Andersson in Sweden, Sweden's been mentioned here. Your government has a number of policies in place, including parental leave. How does it work there and what other things are in place to actually enable people to have children in Sweden?
GUNNAR ANDERSSON, STOCKHOLM UNIVERSITY: Yeah, there is a broad set of policies with the purpose of enabling both women and men to combine parenthood and work. And they were introduced only in the '70s and '80s. There was parental leave system combined with child care, subsidised child care, so women can return to the labour market after they have children. Also separate taxation of spouses so that you don't encourage women to be dependent on husbands. And later on, there has been a shift towards the role of fathers and also fathers should be able to combine parenthood and work and, for example, higher participation in the parental leave system. Today around 20% of parental leave days are taken by parents, and that is a big progress as compared to many other countries in Europe and how it was before.
JENNY BROCKIE: And this is paid parental leave that's actually tied to how much you earn before you had the child?
GUNNAR ANDERSSON: Yeah, that is true. So it's an income replacement. So the system also encourages both women and men to have an income and an earning and be established independently on the labour market before they have children.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK. And does the government pay that income replacement?
GUNNAR ANDERSSON: It's a social insurance, so it works in the same way as an unemployment insurance or a sickness insurance, and it's paid from fees on the salaries that you pay in so it doesn't go directly from the government.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what about child care, who pays for child care in Sweden?
GUNNAR ANDERSSON: That is subsidised by the municipalities, it's organised by the municipalities and that is then paid by taxes.
JENNY BROCKIE: So that's covered by taxpayers, it's not something parents have to pay for individually?
GUNNAR ANDERSSON: They pay a little fee but it's not very dramatic, so mostly 80%, 90% of the cost is subsidised by taxes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Pru Goward, what do you think when you hear those sorts of things?
PRU GOWARD: I just think that bears out that whole issue about gender equality. And I think what's interesting about the figures in Australia is that the women who are most likely to have children in Australia, or to have the largest number, are women with Year 11 education or less. And women with tertiary education, like the Jacintas of the world, are the least likelyWHEREas for men it's the opposite. Men with tertiary education are the most likely to have children, men with Year 11 or less are the least likely to have children. Now, there's some mismatching here.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, Gentleman up the back over here, yes.
MAN: I just wanted to I'm amazed at what the guy from Sweden just said. It looks like sort of a utopia that we should aspire to. But the thing is the Government's been doing kind of the opposite here – rather than allowing greater family friendly flexibility they've sort of allowed greater flexibility for the employers to deny, sort of, people these sorts of choices through the ironically named WorkChoices legislation. What I wanted to sort of say, I guess, to Pru is can you in your role, sort of, call for this sort of paternity leave, maternity leave and also the wider provision of child care? Because we really need it, especially my generation, Generation Y, the, sort of, the generation that's supposedly struggling doing this. So what can you do for us?
JENNY BROCKIE: Pru's going into politics now. So here you go, Pru.
PRU GOWARD: The commission can also, in its reports, call for a lot of those things. But we mustn't forget that when part-time work became more widely available for women in the early 1990s, when the work force was somewhat deregulated, the participation rate of women went up quite remarkably and I think that's a reflection on the fact that actually workplace flexibilities also have to be part of women's participation, and I think that also supports their fertility.
JENNY BROCKIE: But does workplace flexibility or the kind of… The point the gentleman's making – is that going to lead… the new industrial relations laws, are they going to lead to maternity leave being provided by employers, do you think?
PRU GOWARD: I think that's obviously going to become more difficult. And I guess that's the separation of what's the responsibility of the government and what's the responsibility of employers. And we get back to my original proposition that this is really a government responsibility and not an employer responsibility.
JENNY BROCKIE: So it should be mandated?
PRU GOWARD: No, it should be something, I think, that is government-subsidised, as it is everywhere else. There's only one other country in the world where it's mandated for employers to provide it, and that's Switzerland where I don't think they pay any tax.
JENNY BROCKIE: When I mean mandated, we're talking about deregulating the workplace or deregulating our industrial relations system at the same time as you seem to be calling for a regulation, which is maternity/paternity leave.
PRU GOWARD: Well, the workplace reforms have not got rid of that 12-month statutory period of unpaid leave, that remains. What would be nice is if it was if men were encouraged to take part of it up. So no, the unpaid period hasn't gone.
JENNY BROCKIE: But you want a paid period, and that would require a regulation of some kind.
PRU GOWARD: A government-provided paid leave as they have in UKWHERE they've sort of split women into unemployed, employed or not in the labour force.
JENNY BROCKIE: What's the evidence with the AWAs – the Australian Workplace Agreements – so far, in relation to maternity leave? How many employers are offering it?
PRU GOWARD: No, no, very few do. And again you come back to the separation of what's a role for the government and what's a role for employers. And as all other European countries, and Canada, have recognised, it is a proper role for the state to provide paid paternity, maternity, parental leave.
JENNY BROCKIE: Kylie?
KYLIE LITTLE, ESSENTIAL BABY: We've actually specifically asked our audience about “What will it take for you to have more children?”
JENNY BROCKIE: This is on your website?
KYLIE LITTLE: On our website. So it's basically saying, you know, “What is it that would incite you to actually have more children? Is it the baby bonus? is it child care? What is it?” And what they seem to say is it's about child care, it's about flexibility and it's about maternity leave options, so it's about saying that “I can make this work for my family.” I mean, when you were talking before about babies being contagious, they are contagious. The problem is that most of us decide to have a baby, we've actually become isolated from our core communities and we don't see babies, so you're not actually growing up around babies any more. You've left home and you don't see a baby until you think, “Actually, maybe I'll have a baby now and I'll have to go and have a look at one and see what they do.” So it's very different to the way I think people used to grow up.
JENNY BROCKIE: And then you see a lot of them at the childcare centre.
KYLIE LITTLE: Then you see a lot of them. But you don't have sisters. I mean, I don't have any family in Sydney. A lot of people don't have family around them to support them so all of a sudden you have to rely on child care or you don't go back to work.
JENNY BROCKIE: And other structures to support you.
KYLIE LITTLE: You have to rely on a support mechanism, and that's what is actually holding people back because you just can't say “I'll just get Mum to help me out,” because mum's too far away.
JENNY BROCKIE: Lydia, you worked in marketing before you had your child, in your mid 30s. Did any policies in your workplace influence your decision to have…
LYDIA SPENSLEY: Absolutely, They're probably listening now. But I did decide to move to this organisation, I was working in a smaller organisation, who they didn't have any maternity leave except for the government hold your job for 12 months. The organisation I work for now, you get three months and I thought, well, three months is better than none, and they hold my job.
JENNY BROCKIE: Three months paid leave? …
LYDIA SPENSLEY: Paid leave. And also the flexibility in the big organisation to move around. If there's not the job – there's always the worry at the end of 12 months that the job will still be there or that they can find something similar enough.
JENNY BROCKIE: So would that have been the difference between you having the child then and not having the child then, do you think? …
LYDIA SPENSLEY: That's a bit like everyone – there are a lot of reasons.
JENNY BROCKIE: How long is a piece of string. …
LYDIA SPENSLEY: Yeah. A lot of reasons. It certainly helped to have that there. Financially, we waited a long time because we wanted to be at a certain level – the lifestyle factors as well – before we decided to have our first child.
MICHAEL MOBILIA: Just on that, I think from my personal point of view – coming back to a couple of points that have been made – I would love to be able to take off paid maternity leave or paternity leave as it is. And to be honest, with the tax initiatives that the Government's made now, I'd much prefer to keep the tax at a higher marginal rate and pay a contribution tax so that when I do have a child, perhaps I can use that as some sort of sinking fund and call upon that at some later stage. That would encourage me from a personal point of view to perhaps not only have one child but maybe two or three further down the track
JENNY BROCKIE: Pru's nodding her head.
PRU GOWARD: I think we're definitely heading for a social insurance scheme as all the Europeans have. The tragedy of it is that it's work-related so that people who are out of the work force remain really on very minimum benefits.
JENNY BROCKIE: When you say we're definitely headed for it, do you think the Government's committed to it?
PRU GOWARD: No, I think superannuation is the beginning of a social insurance scheme. They'll just start adding on to it progressively, governments, because it's a way of, as you say, getting buy-in and getting people to buy the leaves that they want and feeling ownership of them and feeling an entitlement to them.
JENNY BROCKIE: Gunnar, does the Swedish Government think people are more likely to have babies if they're paid to stay at home, or if it's easier to be a working parent, or both?
GUNNER ANDERSSON: No, the ideology is certainly that of working parents. And also, if you look on the experience in Europe, the differences between countries, it is certainly those countries where women have to make a choice between working or having children, they will get both very low fertility and low labour force participation of women. So it is the combination strategy that is applied in Sweden and that has led – and other Nordic countries – which has led to higher fertility and higher labour force participation of woman.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, Eugene, what about in Singapore? Is there a different view there? What is the government's emphasis? Is it about encouraging people to stay home with children or to participate in the work force with children?
EUGENE TAN: I think it's both. I think there is the emphasis to get the mums working as well as have kids, you know, so there is that pressure to be that super mum. The economy demands that as many well educated women join the work force, and at the same time the economy also depends on the mothers having children, you know. So there is that tension and in Singapore, unfortunately, having children is seen as pretty much a personal or family responsibility. The state comes in with its baby bonuses as subsidies.
JENNY BROCKIE: How much do people get and are they tied to any kind of expenditure – do you have to use them on particular things?
EUGENE TAN: Yes, in Singapore, I think, for the first child you get $3,000 Singapore cash grant, and that increases to $6,000 for the second and $6,000 for the third and, I think, $9,000 for the fourth. But these are not…. Except for the first child, the other cash handouts are not given up to you in terms of cash advances, you know. It's put into a child's account for you, for the parent to use it for the child's education as well as child care provisions.
JENNY BROCKIE: Pru Goward, our Government's put a big emphasis on the baby bonus – or the maternity payment, as it's now called – and family tax packages. Do you think they've weighted… those ideas are weighted towards encouraging women to work or stay at home or both?
PRU GOWARD: I think they are intended to be neutral on that issue but I think they have the effect of encouraging women to stay home.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how do you feel about that?
PRU GOWARD: How do I feel about it? Well, I think the more you can do to enable women to work and have children, the better your fertility rate will be, a la the Swedish experience, but that it's not always the responsibility of the state. And as I say, I think a lot of it is to do with relationships between men and women and the way they divvy up the unpaid work when they get home in the evening.
JENNY BROCKIE: Gentleman up here, yes?
MAN: It's interesting to hear what happens in Sweden. They're great policies. But in a sense it's crazy to even consider them here because the difference between Australia and Sweden is there are approximately twice as many people trying to buy their own home here as there are in Sweden. If you want to pay for having a child, child care, whatever it is you want, the $450,000 entry level mortgage is a good start. We're playing this game of Monopoly, you know, swapping the houses back and forth, watching the price go up and pricing ourselves out of relationships. And that's the thing that's, I guess, tragic about the way that our society is coming at the problem – we're trying to deal with it economically. It's like we're blundering around with a calculator trying to work out how to change a nappy.
JENNY BROCKIE: Eugene Tan, you mentioned the measures the Singapore Government's taking. Clearly they're not working yet. I also gather that the government has set up an online dating agency called ‘Love Bite’ to try to get people together. Now, how does that work?
EUGENE TAN: Well, the ‘Love Bite’ is actually sort of a dating agency set up by the government for graduate singles. I think, like in most countries, graduate singles delay their marriage so the average age for Singaporean men to tie the knot is 30 and for women it's 27. So the problems that come with reproductive health in terms of delayed marriages would show up in baby figures. But in any case, this dating agency there's also equivalents for non-graduates, and the idea is to try to encourage singles to meet in…through a channel that they are comfortable with.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is it working, is it working, Eugene?
EUGENE TAN: I mean, the government doesn't release its figures.
JENNY BROCKIE: How unusual for a government.
EUGENE TAN: No, but in any case, you know, the point is even if they can have a couple of marriages, you know, they'll probably be quite happy with that because when you have a low population figure, you know, you really can't be choosing. But we also have tried to introduce a Romancing Singapore campaign. We take romance very seriously here. And, again, the idea is to try to get Singaporeans to smell the roses, as one of the participants in the audience said, to try to learn to add spice to relationships and all. So it might seem very hilarious to other societies, you know, but here, the government is trying its best in whatever it thinks possible to try to get people to be taken to be comfortable with the idea of settling down.
JENNY BROCKIE: To have relationships. Well, Pru Goward, there's an idea for John Howard and Peter Costello – an online dating agency called ‘Love Bite’, run by the federal government. What do you reckon?
PRU GOWARD: I think the market's already doing that – there's stacks of online dating agencies and I gather they're booming and they've got quite a good marriage rate. So maybe the Singaporean Government needs to get with the market. But I think Australians, from the response to that around the room, actually think we do have enough time for relationships. And that's probably the first problem – that Australians' vision of themselves and actually how they're living their lives are there's a bit of a contradiction often. And we do think of ourselves as this amazingly fun-loving group but somehow we've never got time for anything because we're working 16-hour days.
JENNY BROCKIE: Peter McDonald, is there evidence that people actually want to have more children than they're having.
PROFESSOR PETER MCDONALD: Yes, certainly in the surveys done in all of the low fertility countries and the number of children that people say they want, say, in their early 20s, is higher than they end up actually having. It's not so much about individuals, it's about the way that society is organised. In the Singapore case, Singapore just has to take on employers at some point in time, you know. Singapore women aged 25 to 34 work an average of 52 hours a week. You can't work 52 hours a week and have two children.
JENNY BROCKIE: Can I just have a show of hands here because I'm quite interested in how many of you would either like to have children you're not having, or have more children than you have if you could. How many people here would like to have more. How many people?
Well, that's very interesting. I think, that's quite a substantial number of people. So if the circumstances were right. I'm interested, Gunnar, that for all your social policies in Sweden, your birthrate's the same as ours, at 1.8. Sweden seems quite happy with that birthrate. Why?
GUNNAR ANDERSSON: Yeah, that's a good question. It's not a dramatically higher fertility but at least on long-term it doesn't create these really serious problems that other European countries would face that have a fertility rates on Japanese or Singaporese levels. And it is also It's not really a purpose from society to promote a certain fertility level. It's to give the abilities that parents or young people should be able to have the number of children that they state that they want to have.
JENNY BROCKIE: Eugene, what options are left for Singapore to boost its population?
EUGENE TAN: Well, I think realising that we can't born enough citizens, the government is actually trying to expand its immigration policy in trying to get more foreigners to become Singapore citizens. I think that's a realisation that that's the only way to go given that the birthrates have been in decline, have been declining for 30 years, and despite the generous incentives, they don't seem to be providing any significant lift to the population figures.
JENNY BROCKIE: And is that question of immigration, is that politically delicate for Singapore?
EUGENE TAN: Oh, yeah, it is. I mean, you know, there's always the concern that the foreigners coming in are taking away jobs from the local Singaporeans, and so the Prime Minister in his National Day Rally this year urged Singaporeans to take a big-hearted approach, you know, in welcoming foreigners. And he also encouraged the foreigners who take up Singapore citizenship to make Singapore their home and play their part in being part of Singapore society. I think the idea is to… I think the realisation is if you get graduates, you are probably going to have the same problem as the Singaporean graduate singles – they probably won't get married, or if they do, by the time they start a family it will be too late. So the idea is, perhaps, you know, let's try and get a different group of people who may have more positive attitudes towards child bearing and family formation.
JENNY BROCKIE: That's a very interesting situation, isn't it? Pru, you're shaking your head. I mean, it really suggests that children are just not desirable any more in some societies.
PRU GOWARD: It says Singapore is so work-focused that they won't admit that the way to actually improve the birthrate is to have family flexible policies to make it possible for people to combine both. They're going to keep on with the work, pay the money and if anybody picks it up, that's fantastic.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is that danger for us as well?
PRU GOWARD: It is a danger because there is already a worldwide shortage of all these wonderful skilled workers that Singapore wants to bring in, as there is for us. Look at Canada. Canada believes its family-friendly work policies are one of its key promotional advantages in attracting skilled workers to migrate to Canada. And if Singapore and countries like ours persist in thinking that people want to go there just for work, they will draw from a smaller and smaller pool because, as Bernard says, this youngest generation is very clear that it wants a life. It's not going to wait until it's 65 and made its millions before it has a life – it wants children, it wants everything. And we've got to, I think, see ourselves similarly to the Canadians – as a country where people want to come and actually have a family and enjoy themselves as well as work.
JENNY BROCKIE: And now that you're moving into politics – State politics, though, so not the same influence over federal policy you might have as a federal politician – what are the kinds of things you will be keen to push as a politician compared to your role previously?
PRU GOWARD: One of the things Singapore juggles and struggles with, as do major cities like Melbourne and Sydney, is infrastructure. I mean, men spend double the amount of time commuting in Sydney that they did 20 years ago. Men spend more time commuting than women on average. And I think we've got to do a lot better with our infrastructure to make the way we combine work and family in a physical sense a lot more amenable. I mean, who wants to drop a baby off at the local childcare centre at 7:00 in the morning so you can then catch a train and be at work by 8:30 because you can never be sure that the trains will run on time?
JENNY BROCKIE: Spoken like a true politician, Pru.
PRU GOWARD: Jenny, you did ask. I've been terribly careful about it.
JENNY BROCKIE: It's very interesting, though. There are so many ways you can go with this as a politician?
PRU GOWARD: Infrastructure is a big issue for urban families.
JENNY BROCKIE: And a State issue to boot. What about the people here who aren't having children? What is the one thing if you could get a government to do that you would get them to do, to encourage you to have a child or have more children. Wendy?
WENDY ANDREWS: Can I have two things?
JENNY BROCKIE: You can have two things.
WENDY ANDREWS: That would be paid maternity leave and tax deductible child care.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, nods everywhere. Yes, Jacinta, what Finding a partner, is that the key for you?
JACINTA TYNAN: Not for me personally but for a lot of women my age. But also Medicare-funded IVF. I think that we have to face facts – a lot of us haven't had our children young and they are…we are going to be running into fertility problems, a lot of women are, and so I think the Government owes it to us to help out on that.
JENNY BROCKIE Final comment, here. Yes?
MICHAEL MOBILIA: Just a comment about some of these people who haven't had children as yet. As my wife said, we had children a little bit later. You don't have to give up everything. In all honesty, I've found what you actually achieved in having a baby you can never actually probably ever experience that again. So I think I gave up something but I probably got a lot more in return over the long-term.
JENNY BROCKIE: A nice note to leave it on. And we are going to leave it there. I'd like to thank our international guests very much for joining us. Eugene Tan, good luck in Singapore with your quest to have more babies. And we'll watch the Love Bite website with interest. And Gunnar, thank you very much, too, for joining us from Stockholm. Greatly appreciated.