Investigating the Australian lump-sum Baby Bonus and the reach of its pronatalist messages with young women in Far North Queensland

Anderson, Marilyn June (2011) Investigating the Australian lump-sum Baby Bonus and the reach of its pronatalist messages with young women in Far North Queensland. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Pronatalism is a state-level ideology promoting birth increase that governments of developed and some developing nations have adopted in the interests of future economic stability and age balance. In 2004, the former Federal Treasurer of Australia provided a clear and simple pronatalist message for population growth to correct the ageing skew: ‘have one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country’. Social policy matched this message also in a clear and simple way. The creation of a non-discriminatory, generous lump-sum Baby Bonus paid to the birth (or adoptive) mother became a congruent financial endorsement of the tandem message to ‘procreate and cherish’, a coinage that resonated with the older warning, ‘populate or perish’. An increase in birth numbers after 2004 suggests that such messages have spoken to the national psyche, at least in the short term. Sustained population growth, however, is achieved when as many women as possible have the all-important third child. The younger a woman commences childbearing, the more likely it is, by widening her fertility window, that she will go on to have ‘one for the country’.

Messages in the public arena have emphasised the age limitation of the female fertility window. Concerns about the ageing population that translated into pronatalist social policy have fused with the medical discourse of the risk of delaying conception. Such messages based on the probabilities of pregnancy being twice as high for women aged 15-26 as for women aged 35-39 convert to a risk narrative that constructs female fertility as a personal resource ebbing with age. This is not a new message, but one newly emphasised in the pronatalist state, exaggerated by the assisted reproduction industry maximising market share. The theoretical proposition calls on an idiosyncratic combination of rational choice and risk aversion theories to complement the conceptual proposition: the rational choice for women whose life script includes having children may be to avert the risk of age-related infertility by attempting to conceive naturally sooner in the life course than has been the 40-year norm.

Indications about changing norms surrounding the entry age into motherhood may be discernible in a young female population, a conceptual proposition that formed the basis of the research of the thesis. The Amber Light Project, the identity of the mixed methods research created to complement the thesis, was conducted in the Cairns Local Government Area of Far North Queensland between October 2007 and June 2008. Participants were 13-16 year-old young women (n=230), all Australian residents and 95 per cent non-Indigenous, who completed a questionnaire in a public school setting. Key subjects from the questionnaire formed the basis for 17 semi-structured focus group discussions. The study explored participants’ attitudes toward age for first-time motherhood, fertility and the Baby Bonus. One finding was that participants projected their first births occurring between 25 and 29 or, secondarily, between 20 and 24, but not later than 30 or earlier than 20. In other words, the two extremes of teen and delayed motherhood were mostly rejected by this group of young women. If a single year could be nominated for first-time motherhood aspiration for these young women, it would be the year they turn 25. This is three years younger than the 2006 national mean maternal age at first birth. Twenty per cent of questionnaire respondents expressed fears that they may not be able to become pregnant, and over two-thirds of the discussion group participants contributed views about factors that could compromise a woman’s fertility. The strong, symbolic, procreative message of the lump-sum Baby Bonus may have reached this age group. Over half knew how much the lump-sum Baby Bonus was, and all focus group participants held strong views about this payment.

Participants‘ responses add substantial new information about young women forming their fertility futures under the influences of pronatalism and the procreative message of the lump-sum Baby Bonus that no other research has so far explored. Findings are not generalisable to the total population. However, this thesis proposes the possibility that younger motherhood may be evolving in pronatalist Australia away from the delayed motherhood trend of the past 40 years. This study contributes to the literature on motherhood in Australia and international fertility theory, providing a sociological examination of a chapter in Australia’s population history: the life of the lump-sum Baby Bonus and its roles.

Item ID: 15991
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: ages; Amber Light Project; baby bonuses; first time motherS; maternity payments; natalism; North Queensland; Northern Australia; NQ; Nth Qld; perceptions; pronatalisim; pronatalist policies; teenagers; young moms; young mums; younger motherhood
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Anderson, M.J. (2008) Cutting the cord: Universal paid maternity leave and the baby bonus in Australia. ISBN 978-0-7340-3984-2. In: Re-imagining Sociology: Annual Conference of the Australian Sociological Asscn 2008, 2-5 Dec 2008, University of Melbourne.

Anderson, Marilyn (2007) Fertility futures: implications of national, pronatalist policies for adolescent women in Australia. ISBN 978-1-921420-00-9. Refereed Proceedings of the International Women’s Conference: education, employment, and everything – the triple layers of a woman’s life In: IWC 2007 International Women’s Conference: education, employment, and everything – the triple layers of a woman’s life, 26-29 September 2007, Toowoomba, QLD, Australia.

Date Deposited: 30 Mar 2011 01:17
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1605 Policy and Administration > 160510 Public Policy @ 33%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1603 Demography > 160302 Fertility @ 34%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160805 Social Change @ 33%
SEO Codes: 94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9401 Community Service (excl. Work) > 940112 Families and Family Services @ 50%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 50%
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