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The baby bounce

Written By: - Date published: 9:53 am, February 19th, 2008 - 38 comments
Categories: history - Tags:

When a society goes through trauma, one of the first results is a drop in the birth-rate. People choose not to have children in a time of strife and uncertainty. When good times return, the birth rate bounces back. The pattern could be seen worldwide following the two world wars. In Eastern Europe, where economic and social turmoil followed the collapse of communism, birth-rates are only recovering now.

fertility-line250.jpg New Zealand also went through trauma in the 1990s: National cut public services, particularly those targeted at children, abolished the Family Benefit, and made ordinary people’s labour more ‘flexible’ meaning less job certainty, lower wages, and higher unemployment. Young families were forced to depend on benefits that were drastically cut and depend on food-banks. National was elected and young couples got a headache, the birth-rate tumbled.

15 years later, the birth-rate has bounced back on the back of family-friendly policies promoted by Labour and its allies. Paid parental leave, 20Free childcare, Working for Families, B4 School checks, better pupil to teacher ratios, more doctors and nurses, lower unemployment, higher wages, greater job certainty; these have all given couples renewed confidence to start families.

38 comments on “The baby bounce”

  1. funny that with all its pretending to be “pro-family”, the birth rate continued to plummet under National.
    i guess mother does know best after all.

  2. Does this mean we’ll have a crime wave blip in 2022?
    Will it be a drag on our economic growth, i.e. more working for families subsidies because there are more children; less productivity because mothers/fathers stay at home more either willing or on maternity leave; higher government spending due to the need for more schools, childcare and medical treatment? The demographic timebomb ticking louder, faster and more intensively not only due to a higher number of retirees but also a higher number of children which need to be supported by a shrinking workforce?
    Not to mention the screaming blighters at the supermarket checkout!

  3. merl 3

    Urm, doesn’t the baby boomer bulge have anything to do with it?

    My parent are boomers, and I’m just starting a family now (oldest is 3).

    So there might be a more population based answer to the birthrate statistics that have nothing to do with which party is in power (althoguh I agree with that 2001 dip)

  4. Benodic 4

    merl it’s the fertility rate, not the total number of babies born.

    [Captcha: Growth recently]

  5. insider 5

    2 things

    The news on this is that births are at a “44 year high” – this implies that there has been a decline for quite a long, partiuclarly when you look at the graphs here http://www2.stats.govt.nz/domino/external/PASFull/pasfull.nsf/7cf46ae26dcb6800cc256a62000a2248/4c2567ef00247c6acc256bac00803170?OpenDocument

    You also forgot the graph that shows deaths climbing since Labour has been in power and exceeding the levels of the 90s, when you say despair and woe were so prevalent. So is it fair to say that Labour is killing off more NZers with its policies on tax cuts?

    Your obsession with the 90s is leading you to some pretty dumb conclusions – and it’s a bit sad. Stop playing silly political games with your interpretations.

  6. I think that it is not just the policies that matter. The world was in turmoil generally in the 80s and 90s, economically really through from the 87 crash to the 98 Asian crisis. The policy response in many countries, extremist neoliberalism, multiplied those uncertainties and made life rough for too many people. So unsurprisingly the birth rate plunged.

    Since about 98, the most advanced countries have generally had more progressive governments that have backed away from neoliberal excess (if not actually onto a proper social democratic path), and the world economy has been more stable. So people’s lives have gotten more secure, they’re better off… and they’re confident enough to have families again.

    Good stuff.

  7. slightlyrighty 7

    Its the fault of the broadcasting charter guys!!!!

    The state has more of a say in whats on TV, and people look for something esle to occupy the time!

  8. Steve Pierson 8


    Your birth rate argument. Yes there is a long-term decline in birth rates but there is a sudden drop when National comes to power (and when the Fourth Labour Government introduced its neoliberal policies)

    Your deaths argument. One has to look at rates, not numbers. Larger populations are going to have more deaths.

  9. insider 9


    There isn’t a sudden drop though. Go here and see the numbers (I think the graph above over accentuates the scale) http://www.stats.govt.nz/NR/rdonlyres/557F855F-CEBF-40B6-8CAB-D0BB5054DC32/22429/bddec07qtralltables.xls

    Here’s the TFR since 91. Where is teh sudden drop? There has been a big jump last year but population stats seem to do that occasionally. It means nothing if not sustained.


  10. Steve Pierson 10

    insider. try this one. it goes back further http://www.stats.govt.nz/NR/rdonlyres/577F9E41-D057-49C2-928F-D19E7016C247/0/ASFRxsingle_Maoriandtotalmothers.xls

    – there’s a drop from over 2.1 to under 2 within a couple of years of National getting into power.

  11. insider 11

    But you ignore the long term trend which was from over 4 in the 60s – Is national to blame for that too?

    What about the rise in the 80s when people were losing jobs and assets being privatised and hospitals being closed? How does that gel with your analysis that despair leads to lower birth rates?

    Face it that your analysis is trite and really is playing silly games wiht issues that are much more fundamental and long term than party politics.

  12. Steve Pierson 12

    No-one’s arguing there isn’t a long-term decline in the birthrate, insider. The argument is that the rapid drop at the start of the 190s and rapid recovery now can be partially attributed to government policy.. are you saying cutting public services, particularly those targeted at children, abolishing the Family Benefit, and making ordinary people’s labour more ‘flexible’ meaning less job certainty, lower wages, and higher unemployment would not lower fertility and that Labour’s reversals of those polices would not raise it?

  13. ghostwhowalks 13

    I would say it due to the number of baby pictures on the covers of womens mags. babies are IN again.
    Ask Catherine Rich

    There are problems with “fertility rate”. it used for the wrong purposes, year in year out the biths exceed deaths, so the population will increase in spite of the fertlity rate being below 2.0 for some time which is used to represent a population that cant replace itself

  14. Steve Pierson 14

    GWW: Yeah demographic momentum keeps a population growing even once feritlity dips below 2.1 for as mucha s a couple of decades (eg China) but eventually deaths exceed births (eg Germany, Japan, Russia)

    captcha: “into pionship” , predicting a National victory?

  15. insider 15

    I’m arguing that there was no rapid drop when the data is looked at in context.

    I’m also saying that many of the things in your list or similar happened under the Lange govt (remember all those hospitals HC closed, end of subsidies and import protection, all those factories closed and farms abandoned?). Yet the birth rate went up.

    So why do these phenomena only associate with the colour of the govt not the actual policy outcomes? I think your analysis is lacking becasue it can’t survive a simple comparative test.

  16. Hmm… “Get more booty under Labour” – I like it! (Although the ladies love ‘Sod no matta who’s in power…)

  17. lemsip 17

    Statistics New Zealand senior demographer Bill Boddington said it was tempting in countries like New Zealand, France and Australia which had introduced “pro-natal policies” – such as expanding paid parental leave in New Zealand – to think these accounted for increasing birth rates.

    But other countries that had not introduced such schemes, and others that had had them for many years, had also experienced “some increase” in their birth rates.

    I.E. Policies may make some difference but it is unclear how great that difference is. Unless of you’re a partisan hack of course…


  18. Steve Pierson 18

    insider. One reaction societies have to stress is a decline in the birthrate. Do you deny that?

    National stressed kiwi society by lowering wages, raising unemployment, cutting public services and the family benefit, birthrates fell.

    captcha: “the nationals” looks like captcha has gone tory, better find a PC replacement

  19. insider 19


    It might be one reaction society MIGHT have but it is not a linear relationship – do you have any evidence that it is true?

    Are you saying that the time of the 84-90 govt was unstressed? Corporatisation, subsidies ending, mass job losses in manufacturing, currency devaluation, sharemarket crash etc.

    If it was a stressed time, why did the birthrate rise in that time? Were people breeding for Labour and then withholding for National?

  20. Steve Pierson 20

    Maybe National just made people feel unsexy?

  21. outofbed 21

    Contrast “Get more booty under Labour’ ,
    The Greens t’shirts “I only go out with boys who vote Green
    with National who are just out to fuck you

  22. Ruth 22

    I don’t think politics comes into having kids terribly much.

    People have kids to enrich their lives – you get rewards from your kids that no one else can give you. And they are hard work regardless of the economic conditions. My kids have been such a joy and such a pain in the ass to me that I can’t recall what life was like without them.

    That said, I do think libertarian/far right types tend to be more selfish and so are less likely to have kids.

  23. infused 23

    Labour opened the cheque books for families that’s why. More kids, more cash eh?

  24. “Maybe National just made people feel unsexy?”

    that’s totally my excuse

  25. Steve Pierson 25

    There’s a campaign poster:
    “Vote National, get less sex”

    and in the corner Farrar’s head popping up saying “it worked for me”

  26. outofbed 26

    Well to be honest going around with a cell phone glued to the side of ones head is decidedly unsexy

  27. Phil 27

    “Maybe National just made people feel unsexy?’

    Or, it could be that it’s the party that encourages you to do it on your own

  28. the sprout 28


  29. outofbed 29

    So would this be a fair statement? Not all wankers are Tories But all Tories are wankers

  30. The Double Standard 31

    And here I was expecting a blog post on the importance of child restraints


  31. AncientGeek 32

    TDS: That is a REALLY weak link to the topic.

    Tell me, do you get paid by the number of links? You seem to leave them regardless of relevance.

    Hey I think we have a piece worker. Probably badly in need of union representation. Well I suspect he has come to the right place…

  32. The Double Standard 33

    AG – ‘scuse me for attempting a joke.

    I must have missed your on-topic contribution to this post?

  33. AncientGeek 34

    TDS: There was an interesting discussion going on about demographics. I was reading it. Then I hit your link and it went to something totally daft.

    So are you paid by the piece? Do you need union representation?

    Seems as relevant as your contribution…

  34. The Double Standard 35

    AG – did you click on the spout’s link also?

    If so, do you think that it was relevant?

  35. the sprout 36

    tds, my link was apropos the un-sexy, contraceptive qualities of National.

  36. AncientGeek 37

    I see that there is a post “The birth rate vs the growth rate” over at The Visible Hand. It is a bit light, but does have some interesting links off it and off the discussion.

    and on to the tedious TDS…

    TDS: Yes, and no it wasn’t. But he had not done the same daft thing in multiple posts and multiple times like you had.

  37. Why do we want a higher birth rate?

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