BIG READ: Why Bundaberg desperately needs more babies
If Bundaberg's birthrate had continued as it was 11 years ago in 2010, there would be an extra 853 children in the region.
Bundaberg mums had 967 babies in 2010, but by 2020, that number dropped to 806.
Looking at a snapshot of the decade from 2011 through to 2020 inclusive, there has been a 14.6 per cent decrease in Bundaberg births, more than twice the 7 per cent decrease across the state that has prompted calls for the return of the baby bonus.
And according to experts, the lack of bundles of joy is at a record low Australia-wide.
Demographer Liz Allen from the Centre for Social Research & Methods at the Australian National University says births data from 2019 shows the total fertility rate declined to a low never seen in Australia's official national statistics.
"The measure of total fertility indicates the average lifetime number of births per woman, based on age-specific rates of births for 2019," she said.
"This declining average reflects the fact women are starting families at older ages and so are having fewer children. People are also choosing to be child free."
Dr Allen says Australia has not seen replacement level fertility statistics since the mid-1970s, and while a low population on its own isn't a massive concern, the resulting ageing population is.
"The problem for Australia is that the population is structurally ageing - there are too few prime working-aged people when compared to people aged over 65 years," Dr Allen said.
"And this means economic uncertainty: how will the nation continue to be economically strong, and maintain the level of socio-economic wellbeing if there are fewer relative contributors to government coffers? This question of socio-economic wellbeing means that young people could potentially see their standard of living continue to be lower than generations previously."
And as the population falls, younger generations carry more and more of the burden.
"And COVID-19 has added an additional burden and uncertainty," Dr Allen said.
"Young people are really getting a raw deal.
"The nation wants young people to be the economic lifeline ensuring the country's future, but at the same time these pressures added to existing generational inequalities might mean that young generations won't accomplish the things we take for granted: secure housing, secure careers, and family."
Dr Allen says if Australia's fertility rate were to fall from 1.6 to 1.5 births per woman, the country would be in "deep strife".
Dr Allen says a truly troubling aspect of the low fertility rate is that many people are having less children than they want because of obstacles in life.
"Life gets in the way. Housing, employment, caring for children, and the work-life-balance is too overwhelming. So people have fewer children," she said.
"These structural issues must be addressed by governments and workplaces. Gender equality is essential for parents."
Dr Allen says Australia may become reliant on international migration to help keep the nation economically afloat.
"The current rates of fertility won't see population decline in the medium future, even in the absence of international migration," she said.
"But the demographic disaster is the real potential the nation faces in terms of declining standards of living as the population can't economically support itself."
Demographers such as Dr Allan predict the pandemic will further increase the burden on those wanting children, hurting the nation's bottom line with fewer people to support the country's economic needs.
So what does it all mean for Bundaberg?
Dr Allan says regional areas feel a decline in births more majorly than bigger cities.
"A declining birthrate isn't necessarily a problem," she said.
"For regional areas, however, because populations tend to be smaller any major change in birthrates can be seen more markedly in population size.
"In fact, lowering birthrates could mean closures of: schools, vital services, and businesses as the population's needs change. And this can have long-lasting impacts on regional areas."
The drop in population is a global trend, meaning more and more countries will be competing for migrants to top up local workforces.
Baby bonus, or no baby bonus?
Demographer Mark McCrindle recently made headlines saying that the Federal Government should reinstate the baby bonus which was stopped by Labor in 2014.
Mr McCrindle argued that the birthrate would continue to plummet, especially given the covid pandemic, and that a subsequent lack of international migration wouldn't help.
In Queensland alone, the birthrate has dropped by 7 per cent with 4486 fewer babies born compared to a decade ago, according to the Brisbane Times.
Bundaberg's birthrate has seen steady decline since the end of the baby bonus, with the exception of 2018 which saw a unique peak in babies.
While Bundaberg had 957 babies in 2014, that number dropped to 881 in 2015 and lowered even further to 812 in 2016.
The lowest recorded births for Bundaberg mothers since 2010 was 806 in 2020.
But Dr Allan says there are far more effective ways to encourage population growth.
"One-off payments (like the baby bonus) aren't proven to actually encourage births," she said.
"Rather, policy measures focused on things like childcare, housing affordability and gender equality could help better support parents and families achieve their intended number of children."