Changing times: The story of births

If you want to see how society is changing, just check out statistics on births - its fascinating.  "Times, they are a changin" as the lyrics go, some would say for the better, other would argue that society is deteriorating, becoming more sinful and wandering further from the word of God.  In today's blog I have used a combination of statistics from the USA and Australia to illustrate how times have changed and will leave it up to you to decide if things are getting better or worse? 

Unmarried mothers (ex-nuptial births)

Unmarried mothers were frown upon once-upon-a-time, in some countries these women would have been sent off to a "Home for unmarried mothers", a very unpleasant place to give birth, they may have been required (force-ably) to give up their child for adoption and certainly would have been shunned in some communities. There would have been no welfare for these single mothers as there is today and life would have been very difficult.  However the statistics show that from 1970s to present day it has become common place and acceptable.  In 1970 only 10.7% of all births in the USA were with unmarried mothers, this jumped to 28% in 1980, 33% in 2000 and in 2008 it was 41%.  Australia has a similar pattern, however only 34% of births in 2010 were with unmarried mothers.  

Many of these unmarried mothers prior to the 1970's, were teenager mothers who became pregnant due to "accidents", rather than intentionally becoming pregnant.  However most unmarried mothers today are over the age of twenty, some are in defacto relationships (another increasing statistics in our society) and many are becoming pregnant by choice.  Being unmarried is no-longer considered unacceptable in society and if patterns continue we will have more unmarried mothers to married mothers, especially in the USA and across Europe.  It is already happening in Sweden. It is no longer frowned upon, marriage is no longer considered necessary or important.

The age of parents

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Birth 2010 report
In 2010 the median age of mothers was 30.7 years (33.1 for dads), this compares to 25.4 years in 1971 (mums) when we reached our lowest median age in Australia.  Today's parents are putting off having children so they can establish their careers, buy a home, save up some money and perhaps go on a overseas trip.  Women can delay or manage their pregnancies these days due to the introduction of the contraceptive pill in the 1960's and we can see this in the increase that has been occurring since the 1970s.  Today it is completely acceptable for women to delay having children and put other activities before marriage (if that ever occurs) and starting a family. Women are often encouraged not "to rush in" to starting a family, but to enjoy life first! 

We are also seeing a reduction in the number of teenage pregnancies, however this has nothing to do with girls abstaining from sex, it just means that they are taking the "pill" to prevent pregnancies. This has been encouraged as part of the prevention plan by all sides of government to reduce teenage pregnancies.  Modern girls aren't told not to have sex, instead encouraged to take precautions, how different to a few decades a go. 

Fertility rates

The fertility rate is the number of babies a woman is expected to have in her lifetime and according to the United Nations the current world average is 2.5 babies, this compares to 4.5 back in the early 1970s.  In Australia in the early 70s the fertility rate was 2.5 and in the USA 2.0.  Today it is 1.9 in Australia (below replacement rate) and 2.1 in the USA.  Neither country is big on having "big" families.  Big is out . . .  and with most women in some type of employment, a large family simply becomes too difficult to manage eg childcare costs and education. 

A total of 297,900 births were registered in Australia in 2010, the highest number of births ever registered in a calendar year.  Despite this record number of births, Australia's total fertility rate dropped slightly to 1.89 babies per woman, down from a recent high of 1.96 in 2008.   It is positive that we had a record number of births, however we would still need many more to boost the fertility rate.

The fertility rate has been dropping around the world (excluding countries such as India and parts of Africa) due to the introduction of the contraceptive pill and the education of women. This may be considered positive in under-developed countries (where there is a shortage of food, housing and healthcare), however in the west it is decreasing our population below the replacement rate, resulting in increased immigration. If we don't have enough babies born in Australia, we won't have enough workers down the track and that will impact on our economy - not enough tax payers. However women no longer want the large family nor do they believe they can afford to remain at home (due to large mortgages and increased cost of living) . . . it isn't considered economically viable by most. As a result we seeing shrinking families and the need to bring in migrant workers.

Home Births
Once-upon-a-time women had their babies at home.  It was the norm. Midwives were kept very busy going from house to house delivering babies.  In 1900, approximately 95% of U.S. births took place at home. This slipped to half by 1938 and less than 1% by 1955. However there has been an rise in the number of home births in the US with an increased of 20% from 2004 to 2008, accounting for 28,357 of 4.2 million U.S. births (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011).  Interestedly, some of these home births are occurring as it is cheaper than attending a hospital - once again finances, health insurance and the economy is causing some change to the way people do things.

Australia is also seeing a small but increasing number of home births (from 579 home births in 2003 to 1,000 in 2008).  However restrictive legislation has meant that the number of private midwives attending births in Australia has dropped from 200 midwives in 2009 to only 90 midwives in 2011. 


It is not possible to talk about births without talking about abortions. In Australia we have no comprehensive abortion statistics (all but one state keeps their figures secret) therefore it is not possible to provide statistics on the rate of abortions in this country. However based on a 2003 Study of Health and Relationships, 1 in 6 women in Australia indicated that they had had an abortion (17% of 16 to 59 year old women) at some point in their life.

Numbers for the US are available from the US Census Bureau. In 2007 the rate per 1,000 women was 19.5.  This is a marked improvement from 29.3 per 1,000 women in 1980, and 27.4 in 1990 (however I use the word "improvements" with caution as any baby lost is a tragedy). However there has been an increase in abortions in 2008 with the rate creeping up to 19.6.  This may be due to the economic difficulties faced by many Americans who feel that they cannot afford to have a baby whilst their job or their partners job are being threatened. Whilst we have international economic instability, this growth in abortions may continue.  In other parts of the world, eg Russia, the abortion rate is abhorrence compared to the USA.

With the introduction of RU-486, it now accounts for 17% of all non-hospital (early) abortions in the USA.  This is likely to rise.  Even though abortions have always occurred throughout history, due to modern medical advancements and changes to our legal system, the number of abortions have increased dramatically as a result.

Due to the increases in abortions, the number of (Australian born) adoptions (excluding overseas adoptions) are declining as there are far less babies to adopt.
As you can see from this very brief summary, births statistics illustrate how much society has changed.  What was once unacceptable, is now common place, what was once illegal is now legal, waiting to get married first is not long necessary, putting ones job and career before pregnancies is the norm, even the economy is playing a major part in women's decisions to have or not to have a baby.  I wonder if I did this ex cerise in five years what it would look like?

Statistics have been sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the US Census Bureau.


  1. Very interesting you should speak of home births. Friday my midwife came for the last visit and she asked me if I would consider a homebirth!
    See, at the hospital where I gave birth this time there is no medical backup, just the midwives and if there is trouble they call an ambulance. Just the same as would happen if you were having an homebirth and something went wrong! So really no difference????
    Except you can be in the comfort of your own home and have the expertise of a couple of midwives at hand!

    I was surprised that this would be "allowed", but she said that they just need to attend one homebirth and then can do it! Wow! Even with the birthing pool tucked under their arm!

    Are there statistics on water births, Jo? I found it wonderful, would recommend it to everyone!!!!!

  2. Very informative! And sadly, as I read this, I kept thinking of all the areas in these statistics that need prayer. I knew that more and more people were seeing marriage as unnecessary, but it's a little disheartening to look at the actual numbers. I think life has improved in many ways, particularly in terms of healthcare, but we definitely seem to be losing something with regard to the value placed on faith and family. Thank you for researching all of this!

  3. Thank you for providing this very informative information. It's a shame to see that society as a whole neither values children and/or family life as very important. I shudder to think what these statistics will look like in the future.

  4. As some of the others have mentioned above, this is a sad commentary on the lack of value placed on human life in our society - from many perspectives. Our world is becoming more and more hedonistic and materialistic, and this is reflected on family and procreation values. Does no one ever stop to think about the fact that lowering birth rates will cause more trouble than solutions??

    As for abortion... I think it's disgusting - but at the same time, the Lord holds all those unborn little ones in His arms and I sometimes think they are better there than here anyway. Which is very sad, too, but this world really doesn't have a lot to offer, in many ways.

    It would be good if more of those women would give birth to their babies and offer them for adoption - then some of us couples who struggle to fall pregnant could adopt a child and give it love and a home.

    I really enjoyed reading this information, Jo - although the subject matter wasn't so cheerful! But it's good to know this information.

  5. Clara - sometimes these things happen slowly so no one really notices the changes that are occurring around them. No one is looking at the patterns of change so don't realise that things are not happening in isolation. That is why it is worth sometimes bringing these statistics together as the patterns become very clear and speak for themselves.

  6. This is sooooooooo sad to me and I know all of it too well as I watch it all around me. My own daughter-in-law fighting infertility problems...this want-to-be grandmother seeing marriage delayed or not entered into...friend after Christian friend's daughters having babies in their 20's...none married.

    Christians are in the numbers right beside the world.

    As I read through I also see how much I have walked against this stats..without knowing it...we have six children, only lived (very modestly, no vacations, etc) on one income and three of the six were home birth (because I wanted it that way, not because of cost)

    Only God can change the hearts


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