MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA, June 29, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) - For the first time since researchers began gathering the statistics, Australian women are reaching the end of their fertile years having had fewer than two children. A researcher at Monash University in Melbourne says the latest census figures show a continuing trend of declining fertility, with a segment of women whose birthrate has fallen below replacement level.

Dr. Genevieve Heard, a research fellow at Monash University with extensive experience in the Demography Section of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, told The Australian that her analysis shows the consequences of an ever-increasing number of women delaying childbirth in favor of pursuing a career.

“New data from last year’s census shows that women aged 40-44 years in 2011 were nearing the end of their reproductive years with 1.99 children each,” Dr Heard said. “This makes them the first cohort of women to reach this age group with fewer than two children on average.”

Dr. Heard said the drop in the number of children women aged 40 to 44 had was the result of many years of low and declining fertility.

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“Women aged 40-44 years in 2006 had an average 2.05 children, while women reaching 40-44 years in 1996 had exceeded that with an average 2.2 children each,” Dr. Heard observed.

The replacement level for population is 2.1 children.

The latest figures available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics website indicate that in 2010, Australia’s total fertility rate was 1.89 babies per woman, a small decrease from 1.90 babies per woman in 2009.

The report notes that while fertility rates decreased slightly for all age groups under 35 years between 2009 and 2010, fertility rates were highest for women aged 30-34 years, recording 123 babies per 1,000 women.

Dr. Heard said demographers assume that women had completed their childbearing by the time they reached the 40-44 age group. “However, later childbearing, often facilitated by assisted reproductive technologies, means that this cohort of women may yet add to their average by a small fraction,” she said.

“It remains to be seen whether these women will reach an average of two children each before the next census, in 2016, by which time this cohort will be aged 45-49 years,” she stated.

Pro-life advocates have warned that Australia’s below-replacement fertility rate and high abortion rate raises concerns about the country’s future.

The government’s highest rate population projections indicate a population of 42.5 million by 2056. However, in 2009 a population control group issued a call for the Australian government to institute a one-child policy in order to drastically reduce the population from the current 21.3 million to 7 million.

However, Anthony Ozimic, an Australian and the political secretary of Britain’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), countered that a sustainable Australia must be based on the understanding that people are the country’s most valuable primary resource.

Australia’s biggest problem, Ozimic said, is that the nation has too few people to take advantage of its abundant natural resources. “A radical cut in Australia’s population would mean cutting Australia’s best natural resource - its people, and the future pioneers among them,” he stated.