BANGKOK, Thailand: In a bid to counter a declining birth rate, Thailand has encouraged its citizens to have more babies by offering parents access to childcare and fertility centers, as well as using social media influencers to showcase the joys of family life.
The campaign comes as the country’s birth rate has dropped by nearly one-third since 2013, with 2021 seeing 544,000 births, the lowest in at least six decades and below the 563,000 deaths driven by coronavirus-related fatalities.
As an emerging market that relies on cheap labor and a growing middle class, the effects of this demographic trend for Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy are far more profound that in other Asian economies dealing with similar issues, such as Japan and Singapore.
“The data reflects a population crisis, where the mindset towards having children has changed,” said Teera Sindecharak, an expert on demography at Thammasat University.
Senior health official Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai told Reuters that the government recognised that it must intervene, stating, “We are trying to slow down the decline in births and reverse the trend by encouraging families that are ready to have children faster.”
Officials said the plans include opening fertility centers in 76 provinces and using social media influencers to spread the message.
However, the campaign may come too late for some people, such as 44-year-old Chinthathip Nantavong, who decided, with her partner of 14 years, to not have children.
“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,” she said.
According to experts, it is hard to reverse a situation where social conditions have changed, along with concerns over rising debt and elderly care.
Teera said Thailand is heading towards becoming a “super-aged society” where the number of people over age 60 will account for more than 20 percent of the population, while some 18 percent are already over the age of 60.
During a recent business forum, Danucha Pichayanan, head of the state planning agency, said, “The manufacturing sector will face productivity slumps, so we have to develop skilled labor and adopt the use of automated technologies.”
The demographic trend could also strain government finances, Danucha noted, while experts have stressed providing welfare for the elderly, with the current monthly allowances of 600 to 1,000 baht not being seen as sufficient.
“It is become more difficult in deciding to have children,” Teera added.
Data from the Bank of Thailand showed household debt rose to nearly 90 percent of GDP, from 59 percent in 2010, and the country has also been rocked by political instability over most of the past two decades.