• Last Update 2024-06-13 18:08:00

The danger low birth rates pose to a developing country


By A.W. Abdulkany
The Census and Statistics Department reports a notable decrease in Sri Lanka’s population in 2023, attributed to a combination of factors including emigration, the decline in birth rates, and increased mortality rates.

Emeritus Prof. Indra Lal de Silva, Prof. of Demography at the University of Colombo, said that one of the major reasons for this situation is a 25 percent drop in the birth rate. He also pointed out that the number of births reported in the country is approaching the number of deaths.

Prof. de Silva stated that this situation can worsen as a result of the country’s youth migrating to foreign countries. Migration played a significant role, with many people leaving the country, soaring from 85,572 in 2022 to 222,715 in 2023.
The number of registrations dropped from 361,800 in 2022 to 268,920 in 2023. Simultaneously, the annual death rate rose, with registration climbing from 125,334 to 196,000 in 2023.

Let me compare the labour force participation in Sri Lanka and South East Asian countries. The present labour force participation in Sri Lanka is 48.60%. In Thailand, it is 66.7%; in the Philippines, employment role in January 2024 was estimated at 95.5%. The labour force participation rate in Singapore decreased to 70% in 2022 from 70.50% in 2021.

A negative population in an underdeveloped country can pose significant challenges to a declining population. There may be a shrinking labour force, potentially impacting economic productivity and development. Additionally, a smaller working-age population can strain social welfare systems as there are fewer contributors to support the elderly. This situation might hinder the country’s ability to break out of poverty and achieve sustainable development.

Several South Asian countries are experiencing population challenges, albeit in different ways. Singapore faces an ageing population and low birth rates, leading to concerns about a shrinking workforce and increased healthcare needs. Thailand is also grappling with a declining birth rate, potentially affecting its future labour force and economic growth.

On the other hand, countries in the region, like Indonesia and the Philippines, still have growing populations, which can strain resources and services. Balancing population growth with economic development remains a complex issue across Southeast Asia, with each country facing unique demographic dynamics and socio-economic factors.

Negative population growth can have profound economic and social consequences. Economically, it may lead to a shrinking workforce, reducing productivity, and limiting the potential for economic growth. This decline in the working-age population can result in labour shortages, impact various sectors, and potentially lead to skill gaps. Socially negative population growth often correlates with an ageing population. This demographic shift poses challenges for healthcare and social welfare systems, as fewer younger individuals are contributing to support the elderly. This burden on pensions, healthcare, and social services can increase, potentially draining government resources.

Moreover, negative population growth may affect consumer demands, housing markets, and the overall economy. To address these challenges, countries may need to implement policies to encourage fertility rates and immigration or find innovative solutions to maintain a balanced demographic structure.

Here are 10 potential solutions for the government to solve low birth rates and increase population growth to an acceptable level.
1. Incentive for families: introduce financial incentives such as tax relief, direct cash transfers, or subsidies for families with children. These measures can alleviate the economic burden associated with raising children.

2. Family-Friendly Policies: Implement family-friendly policies, including flexible work arrangements, affordable childcare services, and parental leave. Such measures can support work-life balance and encourage family planning.

3. Education and Awareness: Launch a public awareness campaign to promote the benefits of larger families and the importance of demographic balance. Address misconceptions and concerns that may contribute to low birth rates.

4. Housing Support: Provide affordable housing options to make it easier for families to expand. Housing costs are often a significant factor in family planning decisions.

5. Healthcare Support: Ensure accessible and affordable healthcare services for families, including maternal and child healthcare. A healthy population is more likely to consider expanding their families.

6. Workforce Development: Invest in education and skills training to enhance the employability of the population. A well-educated and skilled workforce can positively impact economic growth and stability.

7. Cultural and Social Support: Encourage societal norms that support family life. Address cultural and social factors that may promote a positive view of parenting.

8. Fertility Clinics and Support: Offer support for fertility treatments and clinics to help couples struggling with infertility. This can address one of the contributing factors to negative population growth.

9. Long-Term Planning: Develop comprehensive and long-term demographic policies that consider the evolving needs of society. Ensure that strategies are adaptable to changing economic and social conditions.

10. The existing welfare measures for families and the elderly should be revisited and re-directed if necessary after due consideration to addressing burning issues in the country, which seriously impact all future planning.

Implementing the combination of these measures requires careful planning and consideration of the specific challenges facing our country. Collaboration with the private sector, civil society, and international organisations can enhance the effectiveness of these initiatives. (The writer can be contacted at abdkany@gmail.com)

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