Tertiary education and workplace reforms vital to address an Asian Pacific crisis in fertility rates

2024/5/27 9:58:52

MANILA, Philippines, May 27, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- Asian Pacific leaders in reproductive health are calling on tertiary education sectors and employers to introduce family friendly study programs and workplace flexibility measures to help arrest an alarming decline in birth rates.

In many countries in the Asia Pacific, total fertility rates have plummeted below population replacement levels posing serious social and economic challenges as population age dependency increases.

Across the world, free-falling total fertility rates are expected to see the populations of more than 20 countries shrink by more than 50 per cent by 2100.

The Asia Pacific Initiative on Reproduction (ASPIRE) – a task force of scientists, doctors, nurses and fertility counsellors – is driving a reform blueprint called Fertility Counts to highlight the threat of falling fertility rates to the future sustainability of economies and societies, particularly in the APEC region.

ASPIRE President, Dr Clare Boothroyd, a fertility specialist from Australia, said today: "In many countries, policy makers are only just starting to awaken to the threat that falling total fertility rates pose to humanity.

"It is a challenge that must be embraced by governments, industry, the education sector and the public to push for family friendly policies that encourage family planning at a younger age, including more flexible study measures, improved childcare services, maternity and paternity leave reform and other financial incentives for parenthood.

"We know that many couples delay having children because of the demands of tertiary education, career development and financial challenges, including housing affordability.

"For women especially this often means deferring plans for parenthood until they are in their early to mid-thirties, when their reproductive capacity is in decline.

"The fact is that the peak reproductive years are when so many women are working hard on university study and developing career paths that there is no time or incentive to consider starting a family.

"Introducing more flexibility in tertiary education courses and workplace incentives would allow couples to balance their learning and career aspirations with the desire to have children."

The ASPIRE 2024 Congress in Manila heard how leaders in reproductive health are working to engage policy makers, business and education leaders, the media and the public on the dire economic and social consequences of a future where more people are dying than being born.

Advocacy for family friendly reform measures is being driven in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, but Dr Boothroyd said: "We are very much at the beginning of this challenging journey, and there are many stakeholders in it.

"The solutions will vary from country to country because of diverse political, cultural and economic environments, but by health professionals, policy makers and the public engaging on this issue we can build momentum and hopefully effect the necessary changes," she added.

New Zealand fertility specialist, Professor Neil Johnson, told the ASPIRE Congress that the total fertility rate in that country had dipped to 1.6 children per woman – below the 2.1 regarded as the population replacement measure.

In Vietnam, the total fertility rate has fallen to 1.95 after around two decades of stability, while in Thailand it has fallen to 1.08. The problem is worse in countries including China, South Korea and Japan.

Professor Kamthorn Pruksananonda from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Chulalongkorn University Hospital, Bangkok, said the population in Thailand had peaked with an imminent decline in workplace participation and productivity, and a growing age dependency.

"The problem will worsen, and we are not alone with this issue," he warned.

Dr Ho Manh Tuong, Secretary-General of the Ho Chi Minh City Society for Reproductive Medicine, said there were significant regional disparities in fertility rates in Vietnam driven largely by socio-economic pressures.

ASPIRE will continue to promote the Fertility Counts blueprint and evidence-based initiatives that will encourage parenthood in prime reproductive years.

The ASPIRE Congress is being held at the Philippine International Convention Centre in Manila. For further information, go to the Congress website