Fertility Rate in Thailand : A Nation in Decline?
A developing country (often also a 'poor country') is usually thought off as having high birth and fertility rates. Thailand has past this stage, and fertility has been declining rather dramatically over the past few decades. In the early sixties total fertility rate was still 6.5 children/woman(!!!). Partly as the result of a National Family Planning Program (NFPP), fertility had declined to 4.9 children/woman in 1975. By the early 1980s it had declined to below 3.
A survey of fertility in Thailand for 1996 shows an average number of children per woman of 2.14 . In 1996, Bangkok Metropolis and the Northern Region already had a below-replacement fertility rate.
The data on the graph below are provided by the World Bank (surely derived from Thai sources). It shows a fertility rate of 2.11 in 1990, which if remaining at this level, was enough to keep an about constant number of Thai citizens. Afterwards, the fertility rate decreased further and formed a low plateau at just above 1.5 childern per woman in the last decade. No major changes seem to occur from year to year lately. The latest fertility (World Bank) for 2019 was 1.514 children per woman. The number for 2020 has been estimated by some to be similar. Not sure though what the effect of the Covid-19 Pandemic was (is) on fertility in Thailand and in the world for that matter. We would also like to find the fertility rates for different regions in Thailand, but we can not find the relevant data as of now. The National Statistics Office (Thailand) offers numbers of fertility in Thailand for the different regions for 1996. After that no statistics gathered. This shows major negligence, since this is becoming a very important problem. Certainly in the media, there is regular talking about an 'aging' society. Certainly worth making new data available (and to study them).
A fertility rate around 1.50 is way below the generally accepted level of 2.1 children born per woman necessary to maintain current population levels in the long-term.
We need maybe to throw in some demographic mathemathics here. A low fertility rate does not mean that the population is declining at this moment. As long as the death rate is lower than the birth rate, the population will increase, and as of 2020 the populations of Thailand is still increasing. Now why is the death rate still lower than the birth rate? Well, there are still less old people than young people, and it are mostly old people that die. When the size of the older population increases in the next few decades, there will come a time when the death rate surpasses the birth rate, and the overall population will decline. [Japan has reached this stage in 2006] Mentally, Thailand is slowly preparing itself for times to come. The population is already aging rapidly. To the Western eye this is not always visible. You still see lots of children around, and adults still bring them from time to time to their place of work (since there are hardly any affordable nurseries. On the other hand, old people seem to be hiding themselves. It must be that most of them stay most of the time at home and are being cared for. It must be said there are hardly any allowances given to retired or old people in Thailand, and this may become a bigger problem in the future.
At least, since there are hardly any retirement homes in Thailand, and old people are being cared for at home, the country did not suffer the indignity of having his older generation dying by the thousands as happened in Western societies, with the Covid-19 virus pandemic.
We think the declining fertility is a serious problem, and as in most countries (especially Western Europe, Russia and Japan) this problem is not addressed, and even hardly mentioned in the media. For a long time it was thought that women were just delaying having children, and that fertility would pick up or at least stabilize, when they were getting children in their mid-thirties or even later. However, time has learnt, that it was not a question of delaying to have children, but in many cases a choice to go without them.
In the long-term we think that a low fertility rate will bring about drastic changes. Having a relatively young population is important to maintain the dynamism and creativity of society. It is doubtful that this somehow can be counteracted by computer technology. Societies may become very conservative and ultimately stagnating.
What brings about these changes. Well, initially they were certainly initiated by government policies (also in Thailand). At present, we suggest that simple materialism is the root of the problem. This works in at least two ways. First, while still loving children and finding them very 'cute', a lot of young adults simple prefer to spend time chatting on their mobile phone, driving an unneccessary car, and holidaying. No time for changing diapers in this type of schedule. On the other hand, the cost of raising a child are much higher than before, because the expectations of what one is supposed to 'give' to a child are so much higher. It was not quite necessary to pay for piano lessons in the 1950s. To keep a sufficient living standard for families, women are participating in the labor force in ever larger numbers, and certainly this limits room for large families.
No place for young girls anymore in Thailand?
Besides the overt materialism on a personal level, in Bangkok we have to observe that society has hardly spent any effort in creating a child-friendly environment.
There are no open spaces in Bangkok where children can roam around and play. As an example of how wrong this is, I noticed a few times that children are learning to bicycle on the grounds around the condo where I live, while the parents are anxiously observing their children, as well as scanning the street for any approaching vehicle. I do not know of any playground within walking distance.
[related to this : Where are the open air sport facilities in Bangkok? You will have to search a lot to find a place where you can jog around a track, and what about public swimming pools? No wonder that Thailand has so few well known sportsmen (except for Thai boxing and weightlifting, sports that are practiced indoors).]
There are many high-rise building in Bangkok. By law, condominiums have to provide parking spaces for the vehicles of its residents. As a result, often the first 5 or 6 floors of a building consist of parking lots. It is something to think about that properties have so much space reserved by parking cars, but on the other hand there is hardly any space allocated as a playground for children. This goes hand in hand with a lack of 'green space', and it would actually be a good idea if laws where available that obliged companies to always include gardens and playing grounds into property developments.