Thailand rushes to avert plummeting birth rates
Last year, Thailand only had 544,000 births, the lowest in at least six decades.
In order to reverse a declining birth rate, Thailand is embarking on a campaign to urge its citizens to have more babies, giving parents daycare and fertility centers while also leveraging social media influencers to highlight the benefits of family life.
Thailand's birth rate has plummeted by nearly a third since 2013 when it began to decline. Last year, there were 544,000 births, the lowest in at least six decades, and 563,000 deaths, which were boosted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thailand is not the only country in the area with low fertility rates, but it is less affluent than some other industrialized nations that have resorted to foreign workers to maintain their economies.
According to experts, social conditions have replaced the desire toward having children with concerns about mounting debt and senior care.
Teera Sindecharak, an expert on demography at Thammasat University says the numbers indicate "a population crisis...where the mindset towards having children has changed."
Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, a senior health official, told Reuters that plans that introduce policies where newborns have full support from the state are an attempt to reverse the trend and get families to have children quicker.
Officials added that the plans include creating fertility clinics in 76 provinces, which are now restricted to Bangkok and other large cities, as well as leveraging social media influencers to spread the word.
Such rules may come too late for people like Chinthathip Nantavong, 44, who opted not to have children with her 14-year spouse.
She expressed that other countries have more favorable welfare policies. adding that "Raising one child costs a lot. A semester for kindergarten is already 50,000 to 60,000 baht ($1,520 to $1,850) and then it reaches millions later."
One academic known as Teera said Thailand is on its way to becoming a "super-aged society," with those over 60 accounting for more than a fifth of the population. Around 18% of Thailand's population is above the age of 60.
The working-age population to senior population ratio was 3.4 last year, but experts predict it will be 1.7 by 2040.
Cats over kids
Danucha Pichayanan, the head of the state-planning agency, told a business forum that productivity slumps are possible in the manufacturing sector, emphasizing that welfare for the elderly is not considered sufficient.
Teera said "It's become more difficult in deciding to have children," due to the economy.
Political divisiveness, mounting debt, and school prices were all key variables influencing views about having children, according to experts, and short-term solutions may not suffice.
According to data from the Bank of Thailand, household debt has risen to about 90 percent of GDP, up from 59 percent in 2010.
Two military coups and large anti-government protests have thrown the country into even more political instability.
For some like Chinthathip, the economic reasons are the main ones.
"The middle class, office workers, or people that are trying make ends meet think the same way," said Chinthathip.
"Right now we have a cat and it's not as costly as a child."