Alarm bells ring over falling birth rate

  • Nation
  • Friday, 15 Jan 2016

Chinese couples are opting to have fewer children to provide the family with a better quality of life. However, as a result, the Chinese community will have to bear the risk of being collectively marginalised.

EVERYONE has been discussing how the Malaysian Chinese birth rate was only 1.4%. In other words, a Malaysian Chinese woman, on average, gives birth to 1.4 children.

Compared to international standards, 1.4% is not really that low. I have checked the birth rates for several countries in 2015. Hong Kong’s stands at 1.17%, Taiwan at 1.11%, Macau at 0.93%, and the champion is none other than the country praised by Chinese across the world – Singapore, at 0.8%.

This shows the declining birth rate is not a situation unique to Malaysian Chinese, but a rather common phenomenon among Chinese communities worldwide.

The urbanisation of the Chinese world has caused a chain effect. These include families relying on double income to keep afloat, more emphasis being placed on the quality of ­living, and women being more independent and pursuing their own dreams.

Coupled with the trend of marrying late and an increasing number who wish to stay single, these factors contribute to the 1.4% figure.

Blame should not be placed on women’s fertility, or on men for not working hard enough. This is but a change in the society’s lifestyle, not unlike how a lot of us have stopped using land lines after the advent of mobile phones. It is just that simple.

A figure of 1.4%, actually, should not be a cause for worry. However, it becomes an issue when the 1.4% is compared to the 2.6% of the Malays, causing many Chinese to feel alarmed.

Demographics tell us that the Malays are the majority race. Coupled with their high birth rate, in time, it will create a wider gap between them and the Chinese. From being a minority race, the Chinese will gradually become a minority within a minority.

And politics and economics are all about demographics. As the Chinese population declines, along with its ratio in the country’s population, their political influence and grasp on the economy will be greatly reduced. In short, Malaysian Chinese must brace themselves for heavier marginalisation.

This is a conundrum faced by the Chinese. On one hand, they choose to have fewer children to provide the family with a better quality of life.

However, as a result, the Chinese community will have to bear the risk of being collectively marginalised.

Is there a way out of such a predicament?

I’m sorry. I cannot see any possibility how this could change.

No matter how hard the Chinese community leaders hold campaigns, or how clans and associations provide monetary incentives, it will not dissuade families from having fewer children.

This concept conforms to modern needs. Chinese women this era would not be willing to dedicate their whole lives, unlike their mothers and grandmothers, just to raise a dozen children. Chinese men are not able to withstand such pressure too.

Not even countries with declining birth rates like Japan and Singapore are able to reverse this pattern, let alone the sole effort of the Malaysian Chinese community.

The worries of the Chinese communities are certainly very real, but they are helpless to change this fact.

Maybe the only thing they can do is to accept the reality and to review their attitude on this matter.

We can no longer expect to compete with other races, especially in politics. Out of the 222 parliamentary constituencies, there are only 30 in which the Chinese can claim a majority. This number will not increase. It will only reduce.

The Chinese should instead learn to live peacefully with other mainstream races, and understand their firm belief in their cultural identity and religion, as well as their sense of insecurity in their living environment. Only by finding common grounds, reducing discrimination and confrontation, can the effects of the widening population gap be compensated.

The anxiety caused by the difference in numbers can only be reduced when there is mutual understanding and tolerance, which will help reduce suspicion and differences among races.

Also, the fact remains unchanged that the Chinese should continue to improve themselves, becoming a part of a more progressive and competitive global community to compensate for the disadvantage in numbers.

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Politics , chinese , sin chew , tay , column


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