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Increasing Cesarean Section Rates: Exploring the Role of Culture in an Australian Community


  • Ruth Walker BA(Hons), PhD,

  • Deborah Turnbull BA(Hons), MPsych(Clin), PhD,

  • Chris Wilkinson MB, FRANZCOG, MPH

  • Ruth Walker is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Lecturer in the Department of Public Health, University of Adelaide; Deborah Turnbull is an Associate Professor in the Departments of General Practice and Psychology, University of Adelaide; and Chris Wilkinson is Staff Specialist in Maternal and Fetal Medicine at the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide, South Australia. Australia.

  • Ruth Walker was supported by a University of Adelaide Postgraduate Research Scholarship, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.

* Dr. Ruth Walker, Department of Public Health, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, 5005 Australia.


Abstract: Background: The proportion of births by cesarean section in Australia has recently increased by 35 percent, rising from 17 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 2000. Unlike previous research, which has focused on women's role in increasing rates of cesarean section, this study aimed to explore the existence of wider cultural norms of acceptance of cesarean section in the Australian community, and the implications these might have for rising rates. Methods: A postal self-completion questionnaire was sent to a consecutive sample of 148 women who delivered 7 weeks earlier at the Women's and Children's Hospital, a tertiary-referral public maternity hospital in metropolitan Adelaide, South Australia. These women were recruited at 18 weeks’ gestation, and had been involved in a wider study. The questionnaire included three sections, one section on agreement with statements pertaining to cultural acceptance of cesarean section, a second on personal consideration of cesarean section in early pregnancy, and a third including sociodemographic questions. Results: Of the total sample, 92 women responded to the questionnaire (response rate 62%). Of 6 items relating to community acceptance of cesarean section, responses ranged from 71.4 percent agreement (“common for people to think that cesarean section offers an easier way of giving birth”) to 23.1 percent agreement (“the media seems to portray cesarean section as a better option than vaginal delivery”). The option of having a cesarean section was considered by almost 15 percent (10/68) of women early in their pregnancy. For the vast majority (8/10) this consideration was clinically based. Conclusions: This investigation demonstrated that these Australian women, independent of sociodemographic variables such as age and education level, agreed that cesarean section was perceived as an easy, convenient way of giving birth.