We boomed when the guns fell silent in World War II. And we’ve been heard and felt ever since. Relatively few countries experienced the phenomenon of the Baby Boom and the countries that did - Australia, the United States, Canada, England and New Zealand, shared a number of social and cultural features. A Statistics Department booklet on Baby Boomers* showed most were prosperous and at reasonably advanced levels of urbanisation and industrialisation. They had rapidly rising standards of living and serious labour shortages.
They also happened to be countries with a strong emphasis on the concept of children as an asset to the nation at that time. Between 1946 and 1965 Stats calculated that 1.125 million babies were born in New Zealand – 77% more than in the 20 years before the baby boom. Like all booms though this one didn’t last. In the 1960s things began to change, and the birth rate slowed.
‘By this time it was more acceptable for women to be in the workforce and the two income family was more prevalent… the number of births rose rapidly until 1961, then started to decline’.
Part of that decline was caused by the availability of the Pill. Having children could now be a matter of personal choice. The birth rate peaked once more in 1971 as the first of the boomers started having children.
Stats explains the rise in fertility rates between 1944 and 1947 with the return of our troops. But why did it happen? According to the booklet there was a parallel trend – a marriage boom.
‘…more marriages led to more babies. In the early post-war years, one bride in three had her first child within a year of marriage’.
The boomers were as much a social as a demographic wave redefining accepted realities. In old age that’s not expected to change.
‘…boomers have redefined the norms at every stage of the life cycle so far and they will also diversify the social, economic and demographic characteristics of the empty nest syndrome' says the Stats booklet. And later, referring to retirement: ‘As a well educated and vocal generation used to competition, they may develop considerable political clout to have their needs met’.
* New Zealand Now - Baby Boomers
Statistics New Zealand 1995. http://www.stats.govt.nz
** Karitane nurses in Christchurch, 1945. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image. http://www.natlib.govt.nz/