Fertility rates in ASEAN nations are plunging. Half the region is already facing a ‘baby bust’. That is a situation where there are insufficient children to maintain the population size.
The total fertility rate (TFR), an indicator of population growth, has tumbled from 5.5 in 1970 to 2.11 in 2017, according to data from the World Bank. A dwindling youth population could spell dire economic consequences for the region. The shift from quantity to quality, increased urbanisation, and a surge in women seeking higher education and career opportunities are among the reasons behind the steep decline.
Factors Behind the Decline
Rapid urbanisation and migration from rural to city areas contribute to the higher costs of raising children. Additionally, there is the scarcity of affordable housing for family growth. Notably, the focus has shifted from the quantity of children to their quality of life. This was quoted by Dr Le Hoang, Head of Tam Anh IVF Centre in Vietnam. Parents now prioritise offering fewer children a better quality of life over having as many children as possible.
Professor Zainul Rashid Mohd. Razi from the National University of Malaysia’s Specialist Centre also agrees with this observation, emphasising the need for a stable environment and a quality education for children.
Cultural shifts have seen more women attaining higher education, seizing economic opportunities, and subsequently delaying marriage and motherhood. Gender inequality, long work hours, and heavy workloads have discouraged dual-earner couples from having more children unless there’s a support system at home, such as living with a parent or in-laws.
Crafting Family-Friendly Policies
To reverse the low TFR trend, it is critical to foster an environment conducive to childbirth and child-raising. Governments need to roll out family-friendly policies that allow parents the flexibility to balance work and family duties, raise awareness about family planning and fertility preservation. Also, it needs to improve access to infertility treatments like Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART).
In fact, Generation Prime, a startup seeking to make IVF and other fertility services more accessible in Asia, is launching its first two clinics in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. The company plans to open a total of 15 clinics in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore in the next three years.
Innovations Driving the Future
The digital realm is playing a vital role in tackling the fertility crisis, offering a lifeline to countless families. Generation Prime, the trailblazing startup, is setting new benchmarks by providing IVF services through both digital and physical channels. This includes initial consultations, egg and sperm freezing, testing, IVF, and surrogacy. By filling gaps in the fertility services sector, these tech-empowered solutions hold the promise of turning around the ‘baby bust’ trend. In the process, it could reinvigorate the demographic fabric of ASEAN nations.
The Demographic Challenge
The spectre of an ageing population is looming. Therefore, ASEAN states must act swiftly to avoid straining healthcare systems. Otherwise, it could potentially trigger a plethora of institutional, economic, and social problems. Policymakers should prioritise making the country as family-friendly as possible to support and celebrate parenthood.
It’s time for a collective push towards prioritising fertility issues in ASEAN countries. With a strategic approach and sustained efforts, these nations can navigate this challenging demographic landscape and secure a bright future for their populace.