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Fertility rates for the year 2008 indicate that New Zealand women average 2.18 births per woman. This is slightly higher than the rate of 2.17 births per woman in 2007 and just above the level required by any population to replace itself without migration (2.1 births per woman). Despite the recent upturn, New Zealand's total fertility rate has been relatively stable over the last three decades, averaging 2.01 births per woman. During this period, the total fertility rate varied from 2.18 births per woman in 1990 and 2008 to 1.89 in 1998 and 2002.

Figure P3 Total fertility rate, 1978–2008

Figure P3 Total fertility rate, 1978–2008

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Several other OECD countries have experienced recent rises in fertility rates, including the United States (second after New Zealand with a rate of 2.10 births per woman in 2006), Australia, England and Wales, Scotland, the Nordic countries, France and Canada. Despite the increases, most other developed countries have sub-replacement fertility rates, including France (2.00 births per woman in 2008), Norway (1.96 in 2008), Australia (1.93 in 2007), England and Wales (1.92 in 2007), Sweden (1.91 in 2008), Denmark (1.89 in 2008), Finland (1.85 in 2008), Scotland (1.73. in 2007), the Netherlands (1.72 in 2007), Canada (1.59 in 2006) and Japan (1.34 in 2007).

New Zealand’s comparatively high fertility rate reflects, in part, the higher fertility rates of Māori women (2.95 births per woman in 2008) and Pacific women (2.95 in 2005–2007) as well as the higher share of Māori and Pacific women in the female population of childbearing age. In the December 2008 year, births registered to Māori women accounted for 23 per cent of all live births registered. In the period 2005–2007, 11 per cent of all live births were registered to Pacific women. The total fertility rate for Asian women in 2005–2007 was 1.52 births per woman and 10 per cent of all live births were registered to Asian women in that period.

The median age of New Zealand women giving birth has risen from 27 years in the 1980s to around 30 years since 2002. For women having their first birth, the median age is 28 years. Age at childbearing varies widely by ethnicity, with European and Asian mothers having the highest median age (31 years in 2006), followed by Pacific mothers (28 years) and Māori mothers (26 years).

In 2008, the teenage (under 20 years) fertility rate was 33.1 births per 1,000 females aged 15–19 years, an increase from 31.6 per 1,000 in 2007. The teenage fertility rate fell between 1997 and 2002 (from 33.2 to 25.8 per 1,000) but rose by almost as much between 2002 and 2008. Over the same period, the Māori teenage fertility rate fell from 84.0 per 1,000 in 1997 to 61.8 per 1,000 in 2002, rising to 80.7 per 1,000 in 2008. For non-Māori females under 20 years, the pattern was similar but less pronounced: a fall in the rate between 1997 and 2003 (from 19.9 to 15.7 per 1,000), followed by a rise to 20.3 per 1,000 in 2008. The birth rate for Pacific females aged 15–19 years declined from 47.4 per 1,000 in 2000–2002 to 42.5 per 1,000 in 2005–2007. Over the same period the birth rate for Asian teens fell from 7.4 to 6.9 per 1,000.

New Zealand has a relatively high rate of childbearing at young ages compared with most other developed countries. At 33.1 births per 1,000 females aged 15–19 years in 2008, the New Zealand teenage birth rate is higher than the rate in England and Wales (26.0 per 1,000 in 2007) but considerably lower than that of the United States (41.9 per 1,000 in 2006).

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