, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 169-192
Date: 19 Feb 2011

Indigenous fertility in the Northern Territory of Australia: what do we know? (and what can we know?)

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Abstract

In the Northern Territory of Australia, Indigenous people make up 30% of the population. Demographic features of the Indigenous population are thus important for understanding Northern Territory population dynamics, but our understanding of what is happening within the Indigenous population is limited by poor data and limited research attention. This paper exploits birth registration and census data to explore Northern Territory Indigenous fertility trends over a 20-year period. It investigates whether fertility decline identified for the 1960 and 1970s is a contemporary feature of Indigenous fertility in the Northern Territory. Results show that our understanding of Northern Territory Indigenous fertility is heavily constrained by data and that trend analysis is essential for avoiding erroneous conclusions because of annual fluctuations. The outstanding feature of Indigenous fertility in the Northern Territory is women becoming mothers at extremely early ages, particularly in rural and remote parts of the Territory. Age patterns appear to have changed little since the middle of last century despite modest declines in age-specific fertility at the youngest ages. While these declines may continue, any trends will be slow to emerge. Continued close scrutiny of data sources and monitoring of trends is needed to ensure that Northern Territory population dynamics are properly understood, and care must be taken in interpreting results to make certain policy interventions aimed at population outcomes are appropriate and achievable.