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
TEXT SIZE - +

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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid