October 26th 2013

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Global instability and debt undermining democracy

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Why GrainCorp should remain in Australian hands

EDITORIAL: Indonesia new cornerstone of Australia's foreign policy

MARRIAGE LAW: Ploy to make Coalition legalise same-sex marriage

VICTORIA: Melbourne GP may be struck off after refusing abortion referral

VICTORIA: Screaming radicals, feminists attack pro-life marchers

ENVIRONMENT: Threat to free speech from eco-activist secondary boycotts

ENVIRONMENT: IPCC report: triumph of spin over substance

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Will exports or our home market be our salvation?

POPULATION: High-rise apartment living produces smaller families

POPULATION: We already grow enough food to feed 10 billion people

HISTORY: Theodore Roosevelt: a study in resilience

HISTORY: Australia's journey: From prison to democracy in 40 years

CULTURE: Whoever pays the piper calls the tune

BOOK REVIEW The economics of self-sufficient households

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High-rise apartment living produces smaller families

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, October 26, 2013

Since the 1960s, family size in many Western countries has fallen dramatically, with many now approaching a population plateau. In some, where deaths exceed births, population has declined.

According to the US Census Bureau (2010), the growth rate of the human population has been declining since peaking in 1962 and 1963 at 2.2 per cent a year. In 2009, the estimated annual growth rate had fallen to 1.1 per cent.

The cause of the dramatic decline in population growth is usually attributed to factors such as the ageing population, and fertility-control measures such as contraceptives and abortion.

But a factor rarely discussed is the impact of high-rise housing, particularly as it affects young families.

This deserves closer consideration, as countries such as Australia are shifting from the traditional stand-alone family home towards living in high-rise apartments.

In contrast to the situation a generation ago, when high-rise flats replaced slums for the poor — and in the process created urban ghettos — inner-city high-rise apartments have become fashionable, particularly for students and young people.

However, there is a growing body of evidence from around the world showing that high-rise living is accompanied by falling family size, aggravating the problems caused by an ageing population.

A 2007 study by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research looked at fertility variations across different types of housing, in Finland.

It found that there were “significant variations in fertility levels”, depending on housing, with highest fertility “among couples in single-family houses and lowest among those in apartments”, with the variation significant even after taking into account socio-economic factors.

It also found that couples who changed to single-family houses had elevated fertility levels, and the trend continued for years after couples made the move, “suggesting that living in spacious housing and in a family-friendly environment for a longer time may lead to higher fertility”.

This finding is consistent with a University of Illinois study by Marcus Felson and Mauricio Solaún, reported in the American Journal of Sociology, May 1975.

After reviewing the literature relating housing density to fertility, the authors suggested that persons living in crowded apartments with little option of moving elsewhere will tend to exhibit reduced fertility.

“Quasi-experimental data from a Colombian public housing project indicate that apartment living significantly reduced fertility among lower-middle and upper-working class persons living in a tight housing market.

“These findings are potentially important in evaluating long-run consequences of housing policies on population growth.”

A working paper produced by the US National Bureau of Economic Research in 2011 found that rising house prices also had an impact on fertility.The study by Lisa Dettling and Melissa Kearney found that rising house prices encouraged existing home-owners to have children, but discouraged those who were not home-owners.

As most young people are not home-owners, the negative effects of rising house prices on their family formation is obvious.

On the other hand, for the average American household living in a stand-alone home, housing constitutes a substantial portion of household wealth. When the price of housing goes up, the wealth of home-owners rises. This can lead them to choose to have children sooner or to have more children altogether.

A 2008 study by Yuko Baba from Georgetown University, using data from the Taiwan Social Change Survey, found that living in apartment-style housing has a statistically significant negative effect on women’s reproductive behaviour.

It is significant that very different countries which have committed themselves heavily to apartment living — including Spain, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong and Italy — are all suffering from serious demographic decline, while comparable countries such as the United States, France, Germany and Australia — where most families live in stand-along houses — have rising populations.

Based on overseas research, the shift towards apartment living in Australia will have a negative influence on family size.

One wonders whether town planners, as well as state and local government authorities, are aware that their decisions to crowd more people into inner-city apartments will ultimately retard Australia’s population growth and contribute to the ageing of the population — not to mention producing more Green voters living in inner-city concrete jungles.

As Kevin Andrews, Australia’s Minister for Social Services, wrote recently, “Population growth in many Western nations is declining — in some places, very significantly... the consequence of ageing societies will be a weakening of the essential family and community bonds, economic decline, and geopolitical insecurity. Demography is destiny” (The Family in America, Vol. 27, No. 3, Summer 2013). 

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