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National Observer Home > No. 63 - Summer 2005 > Articles

Abortion and Australia's Socio-Economic Health

Richard Grant

This article examines some of the main ways in which the high incidence of abortion is harming the social and economic wellbeing of our nation.

A central issue discussed is the extent to which abortion has contributed to the progressive decline in Australia's fertility rate, a decline which is already having serious ramifications for the future because it is now a critical factor in the rapid increase in the average age of our population.

The harmful effects of declining fertility on Western societies are only now beginning to be better understood. A leading American social analyst, Robert de Marcellus, has claimed that collapsing fertility will unquestionably be the determining factor in almost all important economic and social developments for the remainder of this century. He said that civilization has not experienced such a quiet, insidious undermining since the disintegration of the Roman Empire.1

Overpopulation Fears Receding

The grave consequences of falling fertility have, in part, escaped public attention in view of the great concern during the past decades about "overpopulation". The reason for extraordinary world population growth during these years has been little understood: clean water and disease eradication greatly extended life spans and dramatically increased the number of generations alive at one time, a phenomenon that has largely run its course.2

As the American economist, Nicholas Eberstadt, pointed out the population of undeveloped countries mushroomed "not because they were breeding like rabbits but because they stopped dying like flies". Global life expectancy at the start of the century, at birth, was about thirty years; by the early 1990's it had risen to sixty four years, more than doubling in only nine decades.3

Low Fertility Now the Major Factor in Population Ageing

Falling fertility has now taken over from higher life expectancy as the main contributor towards population ageing. Put simply, there are not enough births to maintain appropriate ratios between the young and the elderly. This disparity has the flow-on effect of the costs of social security and health benefits for the aged eventually becoming very heavy burdens for the smaller proportions of young workers in many countries.

The reality now is that in many developed countries sharply declining fertility rates coupled with extended life spans are causing such rapid population ageing that the future challenges facing these societies are immense. This ageing is being accompanied by a projected leveling off and, in most cases, eventual decline of population numbers in these countries.

An Ageing Australia

Australia has not escaped the effects of this phenomenon as ageing is undoubtedly one of the major transformations being experienced by Australia's population. As a consequence, ageing is an overriding current focus for both economic and social policy.4

As it stands, without a dramatic "turnaround" in our nation's fertility, our demographic structure is projected to age markedly over the next fifty years. In 2002, 20.1 per cent of Australia's population was aged 0 –14 years while 12.8 per cent was aged 65 and over. By 2051 only about 14 per cent will be aged 0 –14 and over 27 per cent aged 65 and over (Australian Bureau of Statistics (A.B.S.), Series B "Medium Variant" projections). Series B projections assume an annual fertility rate of 1.6, net overseas migration of 100,000 per year and life expectancy at birth of 84.2 for males and 87.7 for females. Under this scenario, Australia's total population is projected to rise from the present 19.8 million to a peak of 26.7 million in 2069 and then gradually decline to 26.4 million by 2101.

Under A.B.S. Series C projections, which assume a lower fertility rate of 1.4 and net migration of 70,000, the population peaks at 23.3 million in 2039 and then declines steadily to 18.9 million by 2101. In this series, Australia's population is projected to be 4 per cent smaller in 2101 than it was in 2002.

In Series A, with relatively high fertility (1.8) and migration (125,000) assumptions, the population grows throughout the projection period to reach 37.7 million by 2101.

In all of the main A.B.S. series, the median age of Australia's population is projected to increase from 35.9 years in 2002 to between 47.9 and 50.5 years in 2101.5

The ramifications for the workers and taxpayers of the future are immense. Prior to the 2004 budget, the Federal Treasurer, Mr. Peter Costello, pointed out that the number of people of workforce age will not increase in the next forty years, whereas the number of people 65 years and over will double. He went on to say that "we’ve got five people in the workforce for every person in retirement now. It's going to drop to a ratio of 2.5 to one by 2042".6 Significantly, this ratio was around twenty to one in the 1950s.

Monash University's Business and Economics Forecasting Unit states that Australia's aged population is increasing at an even greater rate than government projections. The University's forecasts indicate that there will be 900,000 people aged over 85 by 2031, which is 25 per cent more than official A.B.S. projections. 7

Australian Fertility Trends — Abortion a Major Influence

An analysis of Australia's fertility rate trends since World War Two is instructive in demonstrating the impact of abortion on our fertility rate since 1971. The two years immediately after the War were characterised by high marriage rates and increasing fertility. Having reached a low of 2.1 during the Great Depression, the fertility rate peaked at 3.1 in 1947. Following a brief decline, the fertility rate increased throughout the 1950s, aided by large scale immigration of mainly young families and adults in their twenties and thirties. The fertility rate peaked again in 1961 at 3.55 before falling sharply during the 1960s as social and economic changes led to a wider acceptance and use of oral contraceptives.8

By 1971, the fertility rate had dropped to 2.95, by which time another factor was beginning to have a major impact — abortion. Abortion laws in Australia were progressively liberalised from 1969 and from this time the number of abortions performed annually began to escalate, producing a corresponding decline in the number of live births, on which our fertility rate is calculated.

From 1971, the fertility rate dropped steadily, falling to 1.73 in 2001 with abortion being clearly the major determining factor in this fall. It is conservatively estimated that, on average, around 90,000 abortions have been performed annually in Australia since the early seventies. This means that nearly three million abortions have occurred in Australia since that time, each one representing a loss to our fertility level.

If Australia's fertility rate of 2.95 in 1971 had been maintained till the present day (and assuming no change to migration or life expectancy), Australia's present population would now be approximately four million higher than it is.9Abortion, therefore, accounts for approximately three quarters of the loss to our population caused by the decline in our nation's fertility since 1971 and is the major contributor to the escalating ageing crisis facing this country.

Looked at in another way, given that there were about 250, 000 live births and 100, 000 abortion deaths in 2002, Australia's fertility rate that year would have been 40 per cent higher had the children killed by abortion been born. This percentage is in line with a cross national study of several European countries, which found that total fertility rates would have been from 20 per cent to 90 per cent higher had induced abortion not been available. 10 Significantly, Australia's fertility rate in 2002 would have been about 2.45, or well above the replacement level of 2.1, had no abortion deaths occurred that year.

Australia's fertility rate stood at 1.75 in 2002, which is above the fertility rate of 1.57 for Europe as a whole but below the U.S. rate of 1.99.11 Historically, our rate of 1.75 is near an all-time low and the longer term trend is in a downward direction.

Negative Population Growth Projections

In addition to its effect on population ageing, falling fertility will eventually lead to negative population growth in many countries. Maintenance of stable population numbers requires a replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. Worldwide, eighty-three countries and territories are now below this replacement rate and if "medium variant" fertility assumptions prove true, fifty-six nations will have negative population growth by 2050.12 The United Nations predicts that the European population will fall from 725 million to 565 million by the year 2050, a decline of 22 per cent.

Italy, traditionally a country with large families, is one of the worst affected by the birth dearth. It now has one of the lowest fertility rates (1.23) and the fastest ageing populations in Europe. Italian economist, Guiseppe Pennisi, commented recently: "If projections are right, then in 2050 Italy will have fifteen million fewer people than today, which means they won’t have enough young people to pay for the welfare system, pensions, health and so on. The current population, which is about 56 million, will fall to 41 million. Towns and cities will be left with thousands of unwanted apartments, schools may well be half empty and whole swathes of countryside could be depopulated." 13

As indicated earlier, A.B.S. projections based on a fertility rate of 1.4 babies per woman indicate that Australia's population may begin to decline by 2040. The danger is that the fertility rate may drop even lower than 1.4, with the result that our population would then most likely begin falling well before 2040.

Ageing Budget Crisis Looming in Australia

Population ageing has major implications for all sectors of the community and for policies related to all stages of the lifespan.14 In 2002 the Federal Treasurer, Mr. Peter Costello, released an intergenerational report which warned that the budget would face a huge crisis in future years if the ageing problem was left unchecked. These fears are fully justified.

Even now there are not enough nursing homes for our ageing population. There are not enough beds, and not enough private and public institutions. In particular there are not enough nursing homes capable of integrating partners in need of different levels of care.15

But these problems are only the tip of the iceberg.

The Hogan report on the care of the elderly, released by the Federal Government on Budget night, warns that the total cost of accommodating older Australians, who can no longer look after themselves without some level of assistance, will rise from $7.8 billion last year to $106 billion in forty years time.16

This estimated massive cost blowout is understandable given the results of research undertaken for Carers Australia by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (N.A.T.S.E.M.) on future care for the aged.17 N.A.T.S.E.M. forecasts that the number of older people in Australia likely to need assistance because of a severe or profound disability will rise from 539,000 in 2001 to 1,390,000 in 2031, an increase of 160 per cent.

Further, the number of people available to provide informal care (spouses, children, other relations) for such people is projected to increase from 198,000 in 2001 to 312, 000 in 2031, an increase of only 57 per cent. The average age of carers also increases significantly, with the number of carers aged 65 or over rising by 110 per cent compared with only a 22 per cent rise in the number of carers aged under 65.

If these projections, which are based on Australia's current circumstances and policies, become reality, then several hundred thousand older persons, needing care, will not have informal care as it exists today.18 Carer Australia describes N.A.T.S.E.M.'s findings as "staggering", pointing out that most aged care today is provided informally by family and friends in the person's home.

The A.B.S. estimates that in 1998 there were over four older people living at home supported by unpaid carers, with or without support from formal services, for every one older person living in residential aged care.19 With the proportion needing residential aged care certain to rise dramatically before long, there are immense ramifications for the nation's future budgets and for the workers and taxpayers of the future

Tackling the Ageing Crisis

The ageing crisis created by plummeting fertility is too severe to be rectified by immigration, nor can the massive future cost of caring for the aged be met adequately by measures such as encouraging greater workforce participation, or implementing higher taxes to pay for more aged accommodation, or deferring retirement age to over sixty five.

Australia has, for decades, resorted to immigration as a means of bolstering its population and skills base, with more than six million migrants arriving in Australia since 1945, an average of 100,000 per year. Presently, people from overseas make up almost 25 per cent of our population.20 Despite this, our nation's demographic structure is moving inexorably along the ageing track.

In recent years the Federal Government has been providing incentives for working Australians to save for their own retirement in order to relieve the taxpayers of the future. In addition, it has introduced measures designed to increase workforce participation, including raising the superannuation preservation age and rewarding older Australians who continue to work after the age 65. Measures such as these, however, only have the effect of marginally reducing the adverse impact of the ageing phenomenon as they do not address the underlying cause of the problem, our declining fertility.

Many European countries have gone much further than Australia in the extent to which they are winding back welfare expenditure to release funds for aged care. At immense political cost, many European governments, including Germany and France, are tackling their ageing populations by rewriting the rules and shrinking the welfare state.21 These countries are, like Australia, faced with a rapidly shrinking proportion of children and working aged people compared with the swelling numbers of retirees.

From Athens to Dublin, governments have been pushing through reforms to force or encourage people to work longer before retiring; to redirect bills for health and nursing home care from the public purse to the individuals that incur them; and to reduce the generosity of pension schemes. Germany also plans to adopt an Australian-style immigration policy to actively recruit migrants rather than simply accepting refugees who turn up.22

What most of these governments have not confronted, however, is the central issue: the low fertility rates that are the main cause of the crisis.23

Only a few countries – Norway, Finland, The Netherlands and France included — have adopted family friendly economic reforms needed to achieve significant and sustained increases in their fertility rates. Such reforms are expensive and controversial and the dividend is long term, so most Governments have focused on cheaper measures with more immediate payoffs. But it is unsatisfactory to tackle the symptoms of the ageing problem, yet not its cause. 24

The only national policy that can effectively mitigate the on-coming demographic crisis is one that succeeds in raising fertility. Finding the means to make children welcome and affordable must be a priority objective of national policy. Otherwise, the financial difficulties of families raising children will intensify as those of working age are increasingly taxed to support the elderly, thus depressing fertility even further in a downward spiral.

A Necessary Reduction in Abortion

When expounding the merits of the government's newly introduced baby bonus, the Treasurer, Mr. Costello, touched on the need to increase our nation's fertility rate. During the 2004 Budget Lock-up Press Conference, he said that couples should have "one child for the husband, one child for the wife and one child for the nation". He went on to say,

"Some will manage two for the country, but two only will only replicate yourselves, so if you want to beat the ageing demographics . . . some of you will have to make up for some of your friends that are not even replicating themselves".25

Mr. Costello failed to mention, however, the one factor that is most responsible for undermining our nation's fertility — abortion. The tightening and enforcement of our nation's abortion laws, combined with the cessation of medical benefits for abortion, would produce a significant and sustained increase in fertility. A full-scale attack on our nation's abortion toll is required. Without this, the task of increasing our nation's fertility rate to above replacement level will be almost impossible.

In addition, the Commonwealth government must urgently introduce deep-seated reforms to make its tax and welfare systems much more family friendly. One such reform should be the significant easing of the very harsh means tests applied to family tax benefits. These means tests discriminate particularly against middle income families, and the higher the number of dependent children in the family the greater the discrimination.

U.S. experience provides an indication of the extent to which our nation's fertility rate needs to recover if we are to meet the challenges of the future. The U.S. Social Security Retirement Trust Fund is facing a crisis because it was established on the basis of its being in actuarial balance with a long term national fertility rate of 3.6 children per woman.26 However, the U.S. fertility rate, by reason of abortion and contraception, collapsed in the 1960s and 1970s.

For the Fund to survive, the trustees are banking on a 10 per cent increase in the U.S. fertility rate to 2.2 and a 40 per cent increase in immigration to 1.3 million per year. This means that the trustees hope that higher birth rates and immigration law changes will bring about a huge increase in taxpayers to save the system from bankruptcy. But 1.5 million lives are lost annually to the U.S. population through abortion. With Australia's fertility rate well below that of the United States and headed in a downward direction, it is little wonder the Federal Treasurer is so concerned about our future ability to cope with the ageing crisis.

Other Socio-Economic Consequences of Abortion

Apart from its effects on our fertility rate, Australia's dearth of births is also harming our nation's economic development in other significant ways. The loss to our population of the three million unborn Australians killed by abortion over the last 35 years represents a massive loss to our nation's present productive capacity and hence to the level of our Gross Domestic Product. Further, the additional domestic demand for consumables, which these aborted Australians would have generated, would have been of enormous benefit to our local industries, many of which have struggled to survive and have even gone under.

Professor Max Corden, a member of the Productivity Commission, recently argued that a larger economy, stimulated by higher population growth, allows for utilisation of economics of scale in goods and services not traded internationally. For this reason, he maintains that Australia's interests would be best served if there were a doubling of our population over the next few decades.27

Every working day in Australia approximately three hundred unborn Australians are aborted. This represents the size of an average primary school, for example. Clearly a large impetus would be given to the building industry and its suppliers through the hundreds of additional schools needing to be built nationally following a sustained surge in fertility resulting from a ban on abortion. Clearly there would also be a large increase in demand for teachers generated by the hundreds of thousands of additional children enrolled at our schools — not to mention the additional demand for school books, uniforms and a myriad of other goods and services.

Perversely, a leading Australian teachers’ union has adopted a platform of abortion on demand. This union seems intent on eliminating the young who are their future students. For if our nation's fertility rate continues to slide, there will be many empty schools in future decades. In Japan, which in 2002 had a fertility rate of 1.32, over 2000 public schools have closed down over the last decade. It is not surprising that Japan is beginning to move towards the creation of a family friendly society that supports the choices and efforts of people who wish to have children. 28

Finally, there is increasing evidence that abortion is linked to an increased incidence of social and health disorders, such as marriage breakdown, child abuse, mental and physical illness, drug abuse, breast cancer and suicide. The consequent cost to Australia is very considerable.

The stark reality is that the act of killing an unborn Australian child is now one of our nation's most commonly performed medical procedures. Our failure to protect the unborn is exacting a high price, and the longer we wait the higher the financial and social bill will be for us, our children and our grandchildren.


1. Col. Robert De Marcellus, "Falling Fertility — The World at the Tipping Point", Population Research Institute Review, Vol. 13, No. 5, Sept.-Oct. 2003, page 6.

2. S. Jay Olshansky, Statement to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, University of Illinois at Chicago, 18 Feb. 2001, Miami Herald, 19 Feb. 2001, page 20A.

3. Nicholas Eberstadt, Population, Food and Income: Global Trends in the 20th Century, Washington D.C., Competitive Enterprise Institute, Aug. 1994, page 10.

4. "Scenarios for Australia's Ageing Population", Australian Bureau of Statistics Population Projections, Australian Social Trends, 2004, 4102.0, page 16.

5. Ibid., page 17.

6. The Melbourne Herald Sun, 11 May 2004.

7. "Canberra Loses Count on the Elderly", The Melbourne Sunday Age, 16 May 2004, page 8.

8. Australian Social Trends 2002, Fertility Futures, pages 12-16.

9. D.J. Forster, Unpublished Projections, Melbourne, May 2004.

10. Tomas Frejka, "Induced Abortion and Fertility," Family Planning Perspectives 17, Sept.-Oct., 1985, pages 230-234.

11. Col. Robert De Marcellus, "Falling Fertility — The World at the Tipping Point", Population Research Institute Review, Vol. 13, No. 5, Sept.-Oct. 2003, page 6.

12. Ibid., page 6.

13. Peter Westmore, "France, Italy Address the Fertility Crisis", News Weekly, 1 November 2003, page 4.

14. Department of Health and Ageing, 2001, National Strategy for an Ageing Australia.

15. The Melbourne Sunday Herald Sun, Editorial, 1 Aug. 2004, page 16.

16."No ducking the Aged Care Debate", The Australian, 14 May 2004, page 12.

17. "Who Will Care for the Aged?", Social Action, Issue No. 250, June 2004, page 5.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. A.B.S. Australian Social Trends, 2004, 4102.0.

21. The Age, Insight 6, 9-10 April 2004.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Budget Lock Up Press Conference, Parliament House, Canberra, 11 May 2004.

26. W. Patrick Cunningham, "Fiddling While Social Security Burns", Population Research Institute Review, April-May 2004, page 16.

27. Max Corden, "40 Million Aussies? The Immigration Debate Revisited", News Weekly, 29 November 2003, page 12.

28. T. Ohkoshi, Asia Pacific Perspectives, Jan. 2004, Vol. 1, No. 9.

National Observer No. 63 - Summer 2005