Asia needs babiesBy Asia Sentinel Sep 21, 2011 5:17PM UTC
The answer might be allowing women to have children without wedlock, writes Asia Sentinel
Asia, or at least East Asia, is beginning to fret about its coming aging crisis. The Asian Development Bank has just published in its mid-term Asian Development Outlook, a detailed study of the numbers and their likely impact of rates of economic growth and savings.
For instance, for China from 1980 to 2010 a rising percentage of people in the workforce added 1.3 percent a year to gross domestic product but over the next 20 years there will be a 0.31 percent per year drag. For South Korea the drag will be 0.70 percent and by 2030 36 percent of the population will be aged 65 or more.
Indeed, globally most of the worst aging crises are looming in East Asia. But while thought is now going into coping with the situation, for example by raising retirement ages, very little attention has been given to trying to reverse one of the two causes of rapid ageing – low fertility. Exhortation by governments to have more babies has scant impact. The part of the world often believed to be most dedicated to family values and generational continuity is facing twin challenges: extremely low fertility rates and an aversion to marriage. What can be done?
Data on marriage and fertility rates in the west compared with developed East Asia throw up intriguing questions about whether Asia can find different responses to low fertility to those in the west.
A seldom-noticed statistic is that all developed countries in the west with fertility rates close to the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman also have at least 40 percent of those births outside wedlock. The highest rates, at over 50 percent, are found in Scandinavia and France but even the US reached 40.6 percent in 2008 according to the US National Vital Statistics report.
Countries with the lowest fertility rates are mostly in East Asia — South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan where births outside wedlock are rare. Fertility is also already well below replacement in Thailand and China and extremely low in major cities such as Shanghai so there is every reason to believe that China as a whole will follow regional patterns even if it gets rid of its One Child policy. In Western Europe too-low fertility rates, as in Greece and Italy, mostly coincide with low rates, by European standards, of extra-marital births. So could East Asia, where education and employment levels for women are high, benefit from being more relaxed about extra-marital births?