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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt 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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid