Thailand tries to avoid ‘demographic crisis’ as birth rate plummets

  • The number of births has fallen by nearly a third since 2013
  • Thais choose not to have children due to debt and cost of living
  • Aging population threatens future as manufacturing hub
  • Government plans to support parents and use influencers

BANGKOK, March 7 (Reuters) – Thailand is scrambling to encourage its people to have more babies to stop a falling birth rate, offering parents daycare centers and fertility centers, while appealing to influencers in social media to show the joys of family life.

The campaign comes as the number of births has fallen by nearly a third since 2013, when it began to decline. Last year saw 544,000 births, the lowest in at least six decades and below the 563,000 deaths, which were also inflated by coronavirus-related fatalities.

While Thailand’s demographic trajectory is similar to that of other Asian economies such as Japan or Singapore, as an emerging market based on cheap labor and a growing middle class, the implications for the second Southeast Asian economies are much deeper.

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“The data reflects a demographic crisis…where the mindset of having children has changed,” said Teera Sindecharak, a demography expert at Thammasat University.

Senior health official Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai told Reuters the government recognized the need to intervene.

“We are trying to slow the decline in births and reverse the trend by getting families ready to have children faster,” he said, outlining plans to introduce policies so that newborns benefit with the full support of the state.

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Plans include opening fertility centers, currently limited to Bangkok and other major cities, in 76 provinces and also using social media influencers to support the message, officials said.

Such policies may come too late for people like Chintathip Nantavong, 44, who has decided with his 14-year-old partner not to have children.

“Raising a child is expensive. One semester for kindergarten already costs 50,000-60,000 baht ($1,520-$1,850) and then it reaches millions later,” she said, adding that others countries had better care facilities and social protection policies.

“SUPER-AGED SOCIETY”

Thailand is not alone in the region struggling with low fertility rates, but it is less wealthy than some more developed countries that have been forced to rely on migrant workers to sustain their economies.

Experts said it was difficult to reverse a situation where social conditions have changed and attitudes towards having children are now colored by concerns about rising debt and childcare. the elderly.

Thailand is on course to become a “super-aged society” where the number of people over 60 will make up more than a fifth of the population, said academic Teera. About 18% of the Thai population is over 60 years old.

Last year, the ratio of working-age people to older people was 3.4, but by 2040 authorities predict it could be 1.7.

“The manufacturing sector will face declines in productivity…so we need to develop a skilled workforce and embrace the use of automated technologies,” said the head of the state planning agency, Danucha Pichayanan, at a recent business forum. Thailand is an important regional manufacturing sector for automobiles and electronics.

Danucha also noted that the demographic trend could also strain public finances and experts said the welfare of the elderly is not considered sufficient even today, with monthly allowances of 600 to 1,000 baht. .

“WE HAVE A CAT”

“It has become more difficult to decide whether to have children,” said Teera, noting that over the past decade the economy had been sluggish, while the cost of living rose and incomes grew. was slowing down.

Political divisions, rising debt and education costs were also major factors shaping attitudes towards having children, and short-term remedies may not be enough, experts said. .

Household debt has reached nearly 90% of gross domestic product, up from 59% in 2010, according to Bank of Thailand data.

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Thailand has also been rocked by political instability for most of the past two decades, with two military coups and large anti-government protests.

But for many like Chinthathip, who has chosen not to have children, expenses remain the main issue.

“Middle class, office workers, or people trying to make ends meet think the same way,” Chinthathip said.

“Right now we have a cat and it’s not as expensive as a child.”

($1 = 32.4700 baht)

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Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Ed Davies and Christopher Cushing

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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