Malaysia may be ageing faster as fertility rate hits 40-year low

PETALING JAYA • Malaysia may become an ageing nation earlier than predicted after the country recorded the lowest fertility rate in four decades with fewer babies born last year, according to the Statistics Department.

"Looking at the last 10 years, for every thousand population, on average, 17.2 people were born and 4.6 people died with a ratio of 3.7 births per one death," said Malaysia's chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin.

"The decline in the ratio has an impact on the population structure in Malaysia. This will cause Malaysia to shift to an ageing nation earlier than previously projected, with the elderly population aged 60 years and above expected to reach 15.3 per cent by 2030," he said in a statement on Thursday.

The statement accompanied the release of the report on the nation's latest birth and death statistics published by the department.

The report revealed that fewer babies were born last year as the country hit its lowest fertility rate in 40 years, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Datuk Seri Mohd Uzir said Malaysia's total fertility rate (TFR) of women in the reproductive age group fell to 1.7 babies last year, compared with 1.8 babies the previous year.

"The 2020 fertility rate is the lowest in four decades. In 1970, the rate was 4.9 children per woman. Since 2013, Malaysia's fertility rate has been below the United Nations Statistics Division's replacement level of 2.1 babies," he added.

He said the country's three major ethnic groups of bumiputeras (Malays and other indigenous races), Chinese and Indians all saw a decline in TFRs last year.

"The TFR for the bumiputera declined from 2.6 babies to 2.2 babies, (and for the) Chinese (1.5 to 1.0) and Indians (1.7 to 1.2) in 2020.

"The TFRs for Chinese and Indians have been below the replacement levels since 2003 and 2005 respectively," Dr Mohd Uzir noted.

The three most fertile states/territories are Terengganu (2.9 babies), Putrajaya federal territory (2.8 babies) and Kelantan (2.7 babies).

  • Total fertility rate last year

    Indonesia: 2.3

    Malaysia: 1.7

    Britain: 1.7

    United States: 1.7

    Thailand: 1.5

    Japan: 1.4

    China: 1.3

    Singapore: 1.1

    South Korea: 0.9

    Source: Malaysia's chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin.

Dr Mohd Uzir also said the falling fertility rate is a trend seen in other countries such as Britain (1.7 babies), the US (1.7 babies), Japan (1.4 babies), Indonesia (2.3 babies) and Singapore (1.1 babies).

Malaysia saw the lowest number of live births last year, with 470,195 babies. "This is a decrease of 3.6 per cent compared with 487,957 in 2019," he said.

He said the decline in births was partially due to "the increase in women's level of education and participation in the labour force".

"In addition, factors such as the increase in average age of first marriage, urbanisation, lifestyle changes, economic status and increased use of family planning methods contribute to the declining trend of births," he noted.

The findings also show Terengganu, Perlis and Labuan as the only states/territories producing more babies last year compared with the previous year. Penang, meanwhile, recorded the country's lowest birth rate out of all states at 11.1 babies per thousand population.

Malaysia also saw fewer deaths last year compared with 2019. "The number of deaths recorded in Malaysia in 2020 was 166,507, a decline of 4.2 per cent compared with 173,746 deaths in 2019," Dr Mohd Uzir said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2021, with the headline 'Malaysia may be ageing faster as fertility rate hits 40-year low'. Subscribe