News / Asia

    Asia Experiences Huge Birth-Rate Decline

    Mothers hold their newborn babies at Hanoi Maternity Hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam (File Photo)
    Mothers hold their newborn babies at Hanoi Maternity Hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam (File Photo)

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Approximately 6.6 billion people populate the world today, with an estimated 3.7 billion living in Asia. But over the past 50 years, economic and social modernization in the region has been accompanied by a remarkable drop in birth rates. Sociologists, demographers and researchers are following the trend, and new research is providing more details to explain lower birth rates.

    Many complex and subtle social and economic issues affect individual choices of when, or if to have children. But overall, basic trends are prevalent. A recent study by the East-West center in Hawaii focused on four prosperous Asian societies in Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

    Sidney Westley, a Communications Specialist in the Research Program at the East-West Center, said, "In each of these societies, fertility has dropped very steeply, (which) I think (is) surprising demographers.  It has fallen faster and fallen to a lower rate than people would probably have anticipated 15 or 20 years ago."

    Over the past 20 years, the United Nations says the Asia-Pacific population has been growing, but at a slower rate compared to the rest of the world.  Asian fertility fell by 39 percent in a 20-year period from the late 1960s while remaining above the population-replacement level of 2.1 children per woman.  By 1990, nearly two-thirds of Asian countries had experienced declines of at least 25 percent.

    Fertility Rates for East and Southeast Asia (1960-2009)

    Minja Choe is Senior Fellow in the Research Program in the area of Population and Health. "Most women like to get married and have about two children in their lives.  But a lot of times they do not feel quite ready to do it and by waiting too long, they lose the chance to have two children or they lose the chance to get married,” she said.

    The study found that Asian women are putting off starting a family amid gains in education, employment and living standards, combined with dramatic breakthroughs in health and family-planning technology.

    Bob Retherford, Coordinator of Population and Health Studies and a Senior Fellow, says those reasons are reflected in two main areas. "One is later marriage and less marriage.  And the second major category is lower fertility within marriage,” he said.

    Population Growth Rates for East and Southeast Asia (1960-2008)

    He adds a social shift in Asia has also had a significant impact. "And then there is an emergence of the idea that it is ok to enjoy single life without pressure to get married.  That has become socially acceptable.  That is a major value change,” he said.

    Although dating services have gained in popularity, Minja Choe says other social factors and patterns tend to lessen pregnancy opportunities. "Families do not spend much time together.  A lot of men and women socialize with their men friends and women friends, not much with each other, especially married people,” she said.

    In Japan, the average age of marriage has risen to 29 for women and 31 for men.  Caring for elderly parents, birth control, late marriage and settling into lifestyle without kids, and rapid economic changes that affect hours and careers all affect fertility in the survey area that also includes Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

    Minja Choe also notes perhaps one big social difference between Asian and Western nations. "In these four countries, people do not have children outside marriage.  That is unlike European countries and countries like America, Australia, New Zealand, other low fertility countries,” she said.

    With the declining birth trend in Asia, questions arise about how to address the issue, if at all. Economics play a large role.  Working women have to give up earnings as they leave employment to have children.  The cost of raising children then becomes a factor, especially if mothers have a difficult challenge returning to work.

    Life Expectancy Compared to Fertility Rates in East and Southeast Asia (1960-2008)

    Taiwan recently unveiled a $1.3 billion package of incentives for residents to have babies, giving new mothers at least $100 per month for the first two years of their child's life.

    Sidney Westley of the East-West Center says governments can intervene, but as in the United States, Asian lawmakers must be very careful in their approach to employment issues involving new mothers.

    "The (U.S.) government gives you $500 a year tax break for each child.  It is nothing compared to how much you are losing.  They also have got to be very careful because if they force businesses to re-hire women after they have taken time to have babies or punish them in any way, then you are hurting women's employment.  Then it starts looking unattractive to employ a woman rather than a man,” she said.

    Significant fertility declines have also been seen in other surveys conducted in China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Strong family planning programs along with low mortality and high adult female literacy correlate with increased economic development in those nations.

    Bob Retherford says a balance between individual desires and overall society will at some point have to be reached. "Ideally we want what is good for individuals to be consistent with what is good for society. But that is clearly not the case here. When you are talking about a steady state decline of population of about one third, or more actually in a generation every 30 years, that cannot persist.  That is not good for society,” he said.

    United Nations figures show several countries in East and Southeast Asia (China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam) have already dipped below-replacement fertility levels. Researches do not expect the trends to change over the next several years.

    Watch: Decline in Fertility Rates, Recession Cause Global Social Security Problems
    by Elizabeth Lee (August, 2010)


    Jim Stevenson

    For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.