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Multiple factors behind Thailand’s falling birth rate, experts say


BANGKOK – Thailand will face a demographic crisis if the country’s low birth rate persists, which could cut its population by half. Experts say the government must prioritize strengthening parental welfare in Thailand to find a solution to the crisis.

The average number of children born to a woman in Thailand is around 1.16, according to World Bank figures for 2021, while some media reports the rate was 1.08 for 2022. Health authorities Thai women have confirmed fewer than half a million new births, or 485,085, in 2022 – the lowest number in 70 years.

Experts estimate that by 2083, Thailand’s population will decline to 33 million if current trends continue, with the majority being elderly.

Thailand currently has around 39 million workers out of a national population of over 70 million.

Thai Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew said the country’s declining birth rate was at a critical level.

Variety of causes

Sasiwimon Warunsiri Paweenawat, associate professor of economics at Thammasat University, cites many reasons for the declining birth rate.

“It’s decreasing a lot because we have an improvement in the health care system and an excess of birth control,” she told VOA. “And in the past, it has been a government policy to encourage birth control.”

Thailand’s first national population program began in the 1970s. Sasiwimon said the government promoted a policy to encourage people to have fewer children.

The data shows it worked: From 1963 to 1983, Thailand recorded about 1 million new births a year before declining steadily over four decades.

“They even had the slogan: ‘If you have more children, you will become poorer,'” Sasiwimon said.

Cholnan wants to rid Thailand of the notion as part of the “Give Birth, Great World” campaign, which makes the country’s rising birth rate a national cause. He said the campaign aims to increase fertility across the country and provide medical help to people with reproductive problems.

Thailand is not the only Asian country struggling with a low birth rate. Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all have declining birth rates.

Sasiwimon says education, cost of living, attitude change and maternity leave also affect Thailand’s low birth rate.

In Thailand, pregnant women are entitled to maternity leave of up to 98 days, or 14 weeks, which is one of the lowest in the Southeast Asian region. The International Labor Organization’s Maternity Protection Convention recommends 18 weeks of maternity leave for a parent to recover from their pregnancy.

“In my research, we found that when women have more and more years of education, they prefer to have fewer children. When women are more educated, they join the workforce and earn income. If they have more and more children, they lose that income because of the costs,” she said. “Having children (the costs are) very high now – and the more educated a woman is, the less likely she is to have children.”

Changing opinions about family

Many young Thais have different attitudes than their elders.

“The attitude of the Thai population, millennials, aged approximately 21 to 37, are currently a large group of the Thai population. Compared to Generation X, who prioritize family, this millennial prioritizes their career path and future. personal life,” Sasiwimon said. “That’s why getting married or having children is their last priority. Instead of a work-life balance, they tend to prioritize themselves and it becomes a “work-life balance.” Me “.

Jongjit Rittirong, associate professor at the Institute of Demographic and Social Research at Mahidol University, says Thailand has no time to lose in putting in place better social protection structures for parents.

“Increasing the birth rate in a short period or in a few years is impossible,” she told VOA. “Thailand needs a national plan in all its policies to maintain the fertility level and needs a lot of effort to increase the birth rate, which may take years.

“According to lessons learned from other developed countries,” she said, “increasing the birth rate is not that simple. It requires efforts in many areas of social welfare to increase the rate birth rate”.

Rittirong also told VOA that families need a socially supportive environment to raise a child.

“For example, working couples need safe childcare in the first five years to be able to care for their children during work hours. Some prefer childcare at their workplace , so they can spend the day to see their children and breastfeed them,” she said.

“Longer paid parental leave, flexible work hours for working parents, quality school with affordable tuition, affordable housing with a friendly environment for children’s activities, (and) health insurance for young children (are also necessary).”

Despite the concerns, Sasiwimon said she was happy that Thailand’s new government was paying attention to the issue.

“The good news? The current government has made it a national agenda to encourage people to have children,” she said. “When I look at the policy, if it can be implemented, it will be very good: the government must adapt to the environment, provide family-friendly policy, provide assistance to mothers and encourage the role of the father and the mother. It would be good to correct this crisis.

“If you want to adjust the population structure, it takes time,” Sasiwimon said. “If you want to have a child today, he can be in the workforce after 15 years. So it’s a long-term plan, but I’m quite happy that they said it’s about ‘a national program.’


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