Baby drought: The suburbs with Sydney’s lowest fertility rates

Stark differences in fertility have emerged across Sydney, with fertility rates in inner-city suburbs now half the level needed for a population to replace itself from one generation to the next.

The city and inner south statistical region, which takes in the central business district and nearby suburbs, had a fertility rate of 1 last year – way below the 2.1 replacement level needed to maintain a stable population, not including migration.

But in Sydney’s outer south-west region, which takes in fast-growing suburbs near Campbelltown and Camden, the fertility rate was a relatively healthy 2.04. Rates in outer western Sydney and Blacktown were also well above the citywide norm, a report on regional fertility trends by consultancy KPMG shows.

The analysis draws attention to very low fertility rates in Sydney’s wealthiest districts, including the north shore (1.36) and the eastern suburbs (1.37). Census data shows the population in the eastern suburbs statistical district shrank by 2.1 per cent between 2016 and 2021, even though Sydney’s overall population grew more than 8 per cent in that period.

The total fertility rate measures the average number of children expected to be born to women during their reproductive years.

Fertility rates have fallen in all Australian capitals since the onset of COVID-19.Credit:Louise Kennerley

KPMG analyst Terry Rawnsley, who authored the report, said the high cost of inner-city housing was a major influence on fertility patterns in Sydney.

“The fertility rate variation across the city is reflecting housing availability and affordability, with areas with larger and more affordable housing tending to higher fertility rates,” he said.

“This also aligns with areas where women tend to have lower levels of educational attainment. Higher educational attainment tends to be associated with lower fertility rates.”

Research by Macquarie University demographer Nick Parr, published in 2019, found that in most suburbs of northern and eastern Sydney 70 per cent or more of all births were to women aged over 30 years.

The KPMG report found the total fertility rate has fallen in every capital city since the onset of COVID-19. Demographers have attributed falling fertility rates, evident in many countries, to the social and economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

The total fertility rate in Greater Sydney dipped from 1.67 in 2019 to 1.62 in 2021, a little lower than the national rate of 1.66, and well below the regional NSW figure of 1.93.

Greater Melbourne’s total fertility rate had one of the largest declines due to COVID-19, falling from 1.58 in 2019 to 1.46 in 2021.

Rawnsley expects fertility rates to recover somewhat in 2022 as the social and economic effects of the pandemic are reduced.

The region of Sydney with the highest overall number of births last year was the inner south-west, which takes in Bankstown, Campsie and Rockdale (7957 births) followed by Parramatta district (7367 births).

Almost 22 per cent of births in Australia during 2021 were in Greater Sydney (67,928 births) followed by Greater Melbourne with 18.8 per cent (58,289 births) and Greater Brisbane at 10.5 per cent (32,486 births).

The NSW government’s intergenerational report, released last year, lowered the state’s long-term fertility rate forecast to 1.63, well below on the 1.95 predicted only five years earlier. The downgrade was attributed to “the trend towards forming families later in life and having fewer children overall.”

More than 60 per cent of the state’s population growth will come from net migration over the next 40 years, the report predicted.

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