Academic journal article Demographic Research

Non-Marital Pregnancy and the Second Demographic Transition in Australia in Historical Perspective

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Non-Marital Pregnancy and the Second Demographic Transition in Australia in Historical Perspective

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In the first English language exposition of the second demographic transition, van de Kaa (1987: p. 7) highlighted an associated -large change in norms and attitudes" in Western Europe between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s. This signalled rapid adoption of a much more individualistic outlook on life, and was illustrated using survey data for the Netherlands. Among the attitude changes van de Kaa demonstrated were huge increases over periods of less than a decade to a decade and a half in acceptance of sexual relations between couples who intended to marry and between a girl and a boy she -likes a lot", and in acceptance of voluntary childlessness, divorce with children still at home, mothers of school-age children working, homosexuality, cohabitation with no intent to marry, and living apart together. There had also been a marked decline in the belief that married people were generally happier than single people.

These sorts of attitude changes, variously also labelled -reflexive modernization" (Beck, Giddens, and Lash 1994) and -social liberalism" (McDonald 2006), were occurring simultaneously in numerous developed countries including Australia (Carmichael 1998), and found expression in a variety of demographic indices. In this paper the focus is on trends in a range of measures pertaining to non-marital pregnancy and childbearing. They derive from data available for Australia since 1908 that tabulate annually (i) non-marital confinements yielding live births by age of mother and (ii) marital first confinements yielding live births by duration of marriage and age of mother. The latter data break duration down in months for the first year of marriage, allowing marital confinements following non-marital conceptions to be estimated (as the number of confinements within eight months of marriage). Together, the two sets of data facilitate a focus not just on non-marital fertility but also on childbearing (non- marital or marital) resulting from non-marital sexual activity.

It should be noted that, because of the practice historically of Australian birth registration forms (each State and Territory has its own) seeking information only on previous children of the current marriage (Carmichael 1986), and later of the current relationship (Corr and Kippen 2006), some -marital first confinements" may actually have been preceded by non-marital births to other men and/or, for women pregnant at remarriage, by marital births to a previous spouse. Despite pressure from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for parity data to reflect all previous children of the mother, the second and third largest States, Victoria and Queensland, continue to resist. The key issue is sensitivity - whether a married woman should be expected to disclose a previous birth her husband may be unaware of. Changes in other States and Territories are reflected in published data only since 2007, so this issue affects almost all data used here. Setting it aside, however, as something that can be acknowledged but not resolved, as the data described are available from 1908, trends over slightly more than a century will be examined. Emphasis will be placed on the more recent ones that spectacularly exemplify Australia's second demographic transition.

Several scholars have previously examined non-marital fertility and/or pregnancy trends in Australia. The major stimulus to research was the post-war development of a sexual revolution that during the 1950s and 1960s pitched successive youth cohorts into ever earlier marriages and saw non-marital fertility rates among adolescents and young adults rise rapidly (Basavarajappa 1968; Spencer 1969; Ruzicka 1975, 1976, 1977; Refshauge 1982; Carmichael 1996). The latter trend, aided by practices now widely condemned and the subject, during 2010-2013, of a spate of formal apologies from State and Territory Governments, religious denominations, and the Federal Government (Graham 2012; Gillard 2013), provided a growing supply of children for adoption. …

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