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Number of Children Ever Born Standard

The Number of Children Ever Born variable, collected in the Census, measures the number of live children ever born to each woman in Australia

Reference period
July 2012
Released
25/07/2012
Next release Unknown
First release

Introduction

1. The Number of Children Ever Born variable, collected in the Census, measures the number of live children ever born to each woman in Australia. Consistent with United Nations definitions, ABS measures the reproductive history of Australian women based on live births. Data on Number of Children Ever Born are essential for analysis such as the effectiveness of the population to replace itself through reproduction, investigation of birth rate differentials between various socio-economic groups, and in compiling assumptions of future birth rates for population projections. Information on the biological potential to conceive or reproduce is not collected by the Census, however, is collected by a number of other sources which have a greater focus on the epidemiological and reproductive health aspects of childbirth.

2. A question on the number of children or babies born to females has been asked in all Australian censuses since Federation, except in 1933 when number of dependent children was asked. However, since 1986 the question has been considered to be required only every 10 years. As a result the question was omitted from the 1991 Census, collected in the 1996 Census and omitted from the 2001 Census. It was collected in the 2011 Census and may be collected in 2016 depending on the Australian Community's needs.

3. Number of Children Ever Born was also collected in the ABS 1992 Family Survey, although the collection of data was subject to certain constraints (see Measurement Issues and Related Classifications). A measure of number of children ever born is provided by administrative data collected by the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in each State or Territory, although the method of collecting this information varies across States and Territories. This information is available in the Births, Australia (cat. no. 3301.0) publication published by the ABS.

Underlying concepts

Name of variable

4. The name of the variable is 'Number of Children Ever Born'.

Definition of variable

Nominal definition

5. Number of Children Ever Born is a measure of the number of children born alive to a woman.

6. Number of Children Ever Born is an attribute of the counting unit 'person'.

Operational definition

7. Operationally, the variable Number of Children Ever Born is applied to women 15 years of age and over. In household surveys and censuses the concept is operationalised by asking a question about the number of live children born to women 15 years of age and over.

Discussion of conceptual issues

8. Prior to the 1981 Census, number of births was only asked of women who were, or had been in a registered marriage. From the 1981 Census onwards, total number of babies has been asked of all women aged 15 years and over.

9. In the 1986 Census the question about number of children ever born also included a category for number of children deceased. This was excluded from the 1996 Census because consultation with user groups found that they were predominantly interested in the number of children born and demand for whether they were living or deceased was minimal.

10. The 1992 Family Survey collected data on children ever born, including their date of birth. The aim of collecting birth data from the survey was to produce data that would assist the formulation of population projections, birth-related needs in the community, and women's labour force participation. The 1992 Family Survey cross-classified number of children ever born, with date of birth data, to produce information about birth spacing.

11. It is possible to measure male paternity by asking a specific question but this would duplicate information which is more reliably collected of females. For certain types of analysis, information about the number of children men have had, may be useful. For example, the 1992 Family Survey collected information from men about the number of children outside the household because non- custodial parents and support networks beyond the household are an issue of social concern.

12. The censuses restrict the question to females 15 years of age and over because of the sensitive nature of the question for females less than 15 years. The Family Survey excludes women aged 60 and over, as well as 15-17 year-old women whose registered marital status is 'never married', and who are not living in a current de facto relationship.

13. The Births, Australia (cat. no. 3301.0) publication disseminates data on previous births which is compiled from information provided on birth registration forms to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in each State or Territory. Data obtained from these sources are not strictly comparable, as each jurisdiction asks the question in a slightly different way. For example, the Victorian Registry collects information about the previous births of the current relationship only, which may undercount total number of children ever born to the mother. However the Western Australia Registry collects information about previous births in the current relationship, and then asks an additional question about other children from previous relationships, providing a more accurate measure of children ever born to the mother.

Classification and coding

The classification criteria

14. The only classification criterion is the number of live children born.

The standard classification

15. The standard classification is a single level classification with ten categories:

None
One
Two
Three
Four
Five
Six
Seven
Eight
Nine or more

The code structure

16. The code structure for Number of Children Ever Born is the number of children ever born:

0   None
1   One
2   Two
3   Three
4   Four
5   Five
6   Six
7   Seven
8   Eight
9   Nine or more

Residual categories and codes

17. Not Applicable.

Supplementary codes

18. Not Applicable.

Scope of the variable

19. The variable applies to all females in Australia. However, in most surveys the collection of this variable applies only to females 15 years of age and over.

Application of the classification to other variables

20. This classification is not applicable to any other variable.

Collection methods

Standard question module

Household based surveys

21. For household based interviewer surveys the recommended question module is:

Have you had any children who were born alive?

Yes
No

How many?

One
Two
Three
Four
Five
Six
Seven
Eight
Nine or more

Self enumerated collections

22. The recommended question module for household based respondent enumerated collections (for example, the Census):

For each female, how many babies has she ever had? (include only live births)

None
One
Two
Three
Four
Five
Six or more

Administrative data collections

23. For administrative collections the exact wording of the questions asked may depend on the context of the questionnaire and on the need to collect other variables associated with the number of children.

  • In the case of birth collections the following approach is used in States which collect information about children born in a previous relationship (for example, NSW):
     

Previous children of this relationship

Enter in order of birth.
Include legally adopted children.
If deceased enter D in age column.
If not born alive enter SB in age column.
If no previous children of this relationship write "None" in first column.
Age of each child at the time of birth of the current child.

First names Age Date of birth Sex
___/___/______
___/___/______
___/___/______
___/___/______
___/___/______

Other children of the mother but not of this relationship

Enter in order of birth.
Include legally adopted children.
If deceased enter D in age column.
If not born alive enter SB in age column.
If the mother does not have children born to her from another relationship, write "None" in first column.
Age of each child at the time of birth of the current child.

First names Age Date of birth Sex
___/___/______
___/___/______
___/___/______
___/___/______
___/___/______
  • In death collections the following approach is used:
     

Children of deceased (if applicable)

Enter in order of birth.
Include legally adopted children.
If deceased enter D in the age column.
If not born alive enter SB in age column.
If no children of deceased write "None" in first column.

First names Age Date of birth Sex
___/___/______
___/___/______
___/___/______
___/___/______
___/___/______
  • If there are no complicating factors, the following wording is recommended for administrative forms:
     

How many babies have you/has ..... [the person] ever had? (include only live births)

Standard input categories

24. The standard input categories are Number of children ever born:

0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9 or more

Output

Standard output categories

25. The standard output categories are:

None
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9 or more

26. If a reduced version is required, an alternative standard output is:

None
1
2
3
4
5
6 or more

Supporting variables

27. To collect Number of Children Ever Born, it is also necessary to collect Sex and Age.

Measurement issues

28. The most important measurement issue for the variable Number of Children Ever Born is ensuring that respondents understand that it is a measure of live births rather than all births. Therefore the question asked must always be stated in such a way that respondents are in no doubt as to what the question is asking.

29. Care should be exercised in the use of administratively produced data as different questions are asked in the various states and territories Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages. For Australia as a whole, information on number of children born is only available for births which took place in the current relationship, rather than including those from previous relationships. The ABS has consulted with the various registries on several occasions to standardise the way the information is recorded and stored, most recently in 2006. Since 1996, Western Australia has been joined by Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania in capturing information about births in previous relationships. However, in 2004, Queensland ceased collecting and recording this item on the Birth Registration Statement.

30. In the 1992 Family Survey, there were difficulties associated with the way information on Number of Children Ever Born was collected. To avoid duplication, data on children in the household were collected via the household form, and women were then asked to identify any further children they had had. This led to complications in processing the information that had been collected. It also led to less than totally accurate information being recorded as children in the household may have been adopted or fostered, rather than being biological offspring. In the Family Survey the question was not asked of women 15-17 years of age who were never married, or not living in a defacto relationship, nor was the question asked of women 60 years of age and over. Also, for sensitivity reasons, the question was not asked of all females within scope of the current standard.

31. The Number of Children Ever Born topic was included in the 2006-07 Family Characteristics and Transitions Survey which was collected in the Multi-Purpose Household Survey (MPHS) as a supplement to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Monthly Population Survey. The questions were included as part of a new Family Transitions and History topic. Both male and female respondents aged 18 years and over were asked whether or not the respondent had natural children, number of natural children ever born, and age at birth of first child. For further information see the ABS publication, Family Characteristics and Transitions, Australia, 2006-07 (ABS cat. no. 4442.0). The topic was not included in the 2009-10 Family Characteristics Survey.

32. Asking questions about the number of children ever born may be a sensitive issue which could result in mis-reporting as women may choose to include their still born children or may not wish to report children born outside of their present relationship.

33. There are no related classifications.

References

Show all

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics: 2001 Census Dictionary (2901.0), Canberra, 2001.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics: 2011 Census Dictionary (2901.0), Canberra, 2011.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics: Births Australia (3301.0), Canberra, various issues.
  • Family Characteristics and Transitions, Australia, 2006-07 (4442.0), Canberra, 2008.
  • International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences - Vol 5, Macmillan Company & The Free Press, United States, 1968.
  • Corr, P. and Kippen, R.: The case for parity and birth-order statistics. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Statistics, vol. 48, no. 2, Australia, June 2006.
  • United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Statistics Division. Principles and Recommendations for a Vital Statistics System, Revision 2, New York, 2001.