The Baby Boom That Never Was With Covid-19 — Dr John Teo

When education levels and incomes increase, women tend to delay pregnancy, and families tend to be smaller in size.

When Malaysia entered lockdown with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, many were predicting nine months, later the country face a baby boom.

With people having to stay at home for long periods, the tendency to have sex increases, and consequently, the pregnancy rate will rise as well.

Of course, in reality, issues like joblessness, financial insecurity, mental stress, domestic violence, infection risks, loss of family members and others are hardly a recipe for successful pregnancy.

The latest statistics on total fertility rate (TFR) released by the Department of Statistics showed that there was no baby boom, and in fact, with an average of 1.7 babies in 2020, it was the lowest in 40 years.

Malaysia is a middle-income country and the World Bank predicted that Malaysia will transition to a high-income nation between 2024 to 2028.

Most developing and developed countries have falling total fertility rate (TFR) as their countries become more prosperous. This is a common trend globally, with countries like Singapore, Japan, South Korea and most of Europe having a TFR of below 2.1, which is considered to be the replacement level. 

When education levels and incomes increase, and when urbanisation occurs, women tend to delay pregnancy, and families tend to be smaller in size. This is due to longer periods spent in education, as well as increased participation in the workforce.

One of the major reasons why a decline in fertility rate occurs is access to contraception by these women who are highly educated, with higher incomes, living in urban areas. 

Conversely, when women and their families are in the lower socioeconomic strata, with lower incomes and lower levels of education, and living in rural areas, the usage of contraceptive methods are lower, and thus, they tend to have larger families.

The three most fertile states are Terengganu (2.9 babies), Putrajaya (2.8 babies), and Kelantan (2.7 babies), and the trend is probably due to Terengganu and Kelantan having significantly lower usage of contraceptives than other states.

On the same note, many will notice that the urban poor in low-cost housing areas and rental homes tend to have more children, due to barriers in accessing contraceptive methods.

Most have little time to spare attending clinics or pharmacies as they either have to work long hours, or have little or no means of alternative child care. 

Transport costs to health care facilities and the tendency to believe in misinformation contribute to the lack of contraceptive use.

Rural women are faced with the challenge of health care facilities being located far away from their residences or villages, and also erratic or irregular supply of contraceptives.

A falling fertility rate doesn’t necessarily mean negative consequences, as it reflects a more educated society that is earning better incomes, and also rapid urbanisation.

Women’s reproductive autonomy is also an important positive outcome of a falling fertility rate, resulting in more planned pregnancies.

Planned pregnancies have been shown to be associated with better infant and maternal health outcomes. 

The concern is an ageing population, whereby the proportion of working people will decrease over time, resulting in a shrinking workforce, and having a negative impact on the country’s economic development.

These problems may be mitigated by increasing use of automation, artificial intelligence and a healthier population that can afford to have longer careers.

Malaysia should embrace this impending change, and prepare and enable women and their families to choose when and how many children they want to have. Women should also strive to attain fulfilling and rewarding careers, and have good health in general.

When this happens, a nation will become truly developed, since it isn’t quantity that matters, but quality and life achievements that are more important.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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