How many women in their twenties do you know having babies? Depending on where in Australia you live, you might not know any at all.
While the average age of Australian women giving birth sits at 31.3, that doesn’t tell the full story. There are some affluent Sydney suburbs where more babies are born to women aged 35-39 than any other age group.
Research done by Macquarie University demographer Professor Nick Parr shows that with Sydney, women living in the eastern half of the city are markedly older when they give birth.
“You could draw a line from roughly Castle Hill in the north down to Sydenham in the south,” Professor Parr tells Mamamia. “Less than 30 per cent of the birth rate is due to women under the age of 30 everywhere east of that line.”
The director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Anne Hollonds, says there are “two Australias” when it comes to the age of women having babies.
“There are the women that are having larger families and starting younger,” she explains to Mamamia. “They’re probably more likely to be in the outer suburbs and they maybe have religious or cultural reasons for primarily seeing their role as a mother. I’m talking about families from other countries where the mother’s role is seen in more traditional terms.”
Then there are the women in the more affluent suburbs, with university degrees and professional jobs. They’re the ones whose average age for giving birth has risen so much in recent years.
Hollonds says there are a number of factors that explain the rise in age. It started back in the 1970s, with contraception becoming more widely available, and then continued over the next few decades as more women went on to tertiary education.
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“You’re going to want to see some value out of that investment,” she explains. “There are higher expectations as a result of that, in terms of your work prospects, but also income and lifestyle. So we’re more likely to want to delay that settling down, generally. The twenties have become more like an extended adolescence.
“That was happening before the house prices crept up to those extraordinary levels. But then I think the house prices kind of sealed it.”