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Parental angst: why Vietnamese are having fewer babies

By Pham Nga   November 2, 2021 | 08:38 pm PT
After having her first child, Tuyet Nhung told her husband she did not want more since she felt worn out and wanted more leisure and personal time.

Nhung and her husband of Hanoi's Nam Tu Liem District got married when they were both over 30.

When her son was a newborn, he would cry all night, making her paranoid and "look around the house and think it is about to fall" and experience prolonged insomnia and headaches.

In the first three years, he was sickly and spent more time in hospital than at home, forcing her to resign from her job as a department head at a university and become a regular employee.

Her husband is a busy businessman and hardly has much free time to help with housework.

Her son is now in second grade and no longer sick, and so she no longer has to ask her boss to let her come in late and leave early.

She says: "I have started to live happier a life, feeling more relaxed with everyone and less angry with my husband and son. Every weekend I go to coffee shops and attend personals skill courses that I like".

When she told him her decision to have only one child, her husband supported it.

A newborn baby at Tu Du Hospital in HCMC, January 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Thu

A newborn baby at Tu Du Hospital in HCMC, January 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Thu

According to Khuat Thu Hong, director of the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS), there are a growing number of couples like Nhung who are putting off having more babies.

According to 2020 statistics from the Department of Population and Family Planning, 21 provinces and cities in the country had a fertility rate of fewer than two children per woman, accounting for 39 percent of the population.

In 2019 the five centrally-run cities, especially Ho Chi Minh City, had among the lowest rates, 1.39 per child per woman of reproductive age.

"The low birth rate is because of social and economic pressures," Hong says.

Nguyen Thu Quynh, 30, of Hanoi's Cau Giay District understands more than anyone the economic pressures of living in a large family.

"Sometimes I still dream of being called up to the blackboard by my teacher for not paying my tuition fees or being beaten by my mother for asking for a dress that she couldn't afford," she says about her childhood memories of growing up in a poor family with many siblings.

She does not want the past to repeat itself with her four-year-old daughter.

Her family's current income is just over VND20 million ($872) a month.

Every month, on top of the VND5 million it takes to raise a child, she still has to pay off her mortgage of VND5 million and send VND2 million to her parents and grandparents.

"I am afraid I won't be able to bear the economic burden of having more kids," she says.

The economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic in the last two years has also made couples afraid of having children.

In the U.S., a survey by the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, found that 34 percent of women with husbands or boyfriends have decided to delay pregnancy or have fewer children because of Covid-related economic concerns.

A study by Dai-ichi Life Research Institute belonging to the Japanese life insurer also found a similar situation in Japan.

Hoang Ngoc Hai, 34, a tour guide living in HCMC's District 1, lost his job due to the pandemic, forcing him to give up the idea of having a second child.

His wife, an English teacher, became the main breadwinner of the family, but her income from teaching online has been barely enough to support the entire family. The couple have used up all their savings.

"We have just one child but still face financial difficulties, and sometimes even quarrel due to money problems," he says.

The epidemic has caused Nguyen Thanh Hoa, 30, of HCMC to think not having children is a good idea.

The woman who got married five years ago says: "We have bought a house and currently have a saving of VND300 million. We want to make sure we are financially stable first before having a child".

The couple have been lucky that they were still earning money and comfortably working from home without children around during the four months of stringent lockdowns.

Meanwhile, their friends were frantically looking to buy diapers and food and caring for their children while also trying to earn a living.

"If having kids makes parents feel exhausted and children face the risk of falling sick due to Covid, air pollution and others, what's the point of having kids?" Hoa asks.

A woman inside a nursing home in Hanois Bac Tu Liem District. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong

A woman inside a nursing home in Hanoi's Bac Tu Liem District. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong

With people not keen on having kids and the improved healthcare system, people are living longer and the aging population is posing a challenge to the fiscal and macroeconomic stability to many societies.

According to data from the United Nations, in 2020 just over 33 percent of the world's population was under the age of 20 compared to 44 percent in 1950.

Experts predict that by the second half of this century, or even earlier, the global population will begin a sustained decline for the first time.

Many signs of that scenario have emerged around the world: A number of maternity clinics in Italy have closed and schools have been turned into nursing homes, ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China and universities in South Korea cannot find enough students.

In Germany, hundreds of thousands of houses have been razed and turned into parks. In Japan, adult diapers outsell baby diapers.

Vietnam’s population is aging rapidly.

In developed countries, the demographic transition to an aging population took decades, even hundreds of years, but in Vietnam it has taken only 17-20 years.

It is forecast that by 2050 Vietnam will become a 'super-old' country with people over 65 years accounting for 18 percent of the population.

According to experts, the low fertility rate will be detrimental to socio-economic development by putting increasing pressure on the social welfare system for the elderly and reducing the availability of human resources.

Later a child will have to face the burden of taking care of two parents and four grandparents at the same time.

It is forecast that after 2035 every four people of working age will have to take care of three people of non-working ages.

Faced with the fact that people are afraid to have children, in the last two years the government has changed its policy from encouraging people to have only one child to having two.

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh has approved a program to encourage both men and women to marry before 30 and have two children.

A draft outline of the Law on Population by the Ministry of Health for submission to the government says couples in areas with low birth rates will be encouraged to have two children.

The government will grant couples a sum equal to the minimum wage of their region on having their first child and twice that on having a second.

The minimum wage currently ranges from VND3.07 million to VND4.42 million, and thus women in some places will receive up to VND8.84 million when they have their second child.

But Hai, the tour guide, says even if the law is passed, he and his wife would stop with one child if their income is still precarious.

"Raising a child is a long journey. Moreover, raising a child involves many things, not just money".

He and his wife have saved money, planning to give it to their son when he turns 18.

He also plans to buy life insurance so that in his old age he will not be a burden for his child.

Instead of giving her son a younger sister or brother, Nhung plans to give him as many life skills as possible and a lot of love.

The couple have also set up a separate fund for moving into a retirement home in their old age.

"We are determined from the very beginning that we will not rely on our children when we were old so that we won't be disappointed later," she adds.

 
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