Student Debt: A HECS on Fertility?

Opponents of university fees are tapping into concern about declining fertility levels by arguing that there may be a link between student debt and fewer births.

  • As the young women who started university in the late 1980s when HECS was introduced are still in their childbearing years it is impossible to say whether or not they will end up having fewer children than previous generations.
  • The rate of childbirth to women in their late twenties in 2001, who were all charged HECS for their entire degree, is the same as women in their late twenties in 1996, who had lower levels of HECS.
  • The evidence points to a connection between university education and lower rates of childbirth, rather than a connection between HECS and lower rates of childbirth.
  • Older university educated women, who did not pay HECS, have lower birth rates than less educated women of the same age.
  • University educated women have career and lifestyle reasons for at least postponing children.
  • A shortage of suitable male partners may be one reason university educated women have fewer children than less educated women.
  • Even if subsequent evidence shows a link between HECS and fertility, it does not follow that HECS debts should be generally reduced, because this rewards equally those who do and those who do not have children.
  • Taxes like stamp duty on homes affect more young couples than HECS debts.

Andrew Norton is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies. He is the author of The Unchained University (CIS, 2002), which examines the case for market reform of higher education.