News - March 22, 2024 | 03:24 pm PT

Vietnamese families still favor children in 'auspicious years'

In Vietnamese culture, the tradition of timing childbirth according to auspicious years remains deeply entrenched, with parents often consulting astrology to determine the most favorable times for expanding their families, particularly in urban areas, experts have observed.

During the first three days of the Lunar New Year holiday last month, Vietnam saw a notable surge in newborn arrivals, welcoming 7,680 infants—a 9.6% increase compared to the same period the previous year, as reported by the Ministry of Health.

"Choosing an auspicious year according to astrology for childbirth is a well-established practice in Vietnam," said Phung Duc Tung, Director of the Mekong Development Research Institute, an independent scientific research agency based in Hanoi.

Baby Vu Ngoc Mai Anh, one of the first Dragon citizens of Vietnam, at Tu Du Hospital in HCMC, Feb. 10, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Thi Quan

The Year of the Dragon, which happens to be this year, holds significant cultural sway across many Asian countries adhering to the lunar calendar, including Vietnam and China. The dragon, symbolizing power, strength, and good fortune, is regarded as the most auspicious of the 12 zodiac animals, believed to endow children born in its year with exceptional qualities conducive to success and leadership.

This cultural predilection often results in a surge in birth rates during dragon years, as many parents seek to provide their offspring with a prosperous start in life by aligning their pregnancies with this zodiac cycle.

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In a joint study conducted by Tung and Do Quy Toan from the World Bank, data from 1977-1998 revealed a 12% increase in newborns during auspicious years, validating the impact of astrological beliefs on birth rates.

The lunar calendar's intricate system, comprised of 60-year cycles combining 10 elements with 12 zodiac animals, dictates the perceived auspiciousness of a given year for childbirth.

Elements such as Jia and Yi enhance the auspiciousness of dragon years, whereas Geng, Bing, and Wu years are considered average. Years beginning with the elements Ding, Ren, and Gui are universally regarded as favorable, irrespective of the zodiac animal.

Baby Truong Nha An, one of the first five Vietnamese citizens born in the Year of the Dragon, with her parents at Tu Du Hospital, HCMC, Feb. 10, 2024 . Photo by VnExpress/Thi Quan

This fervor for "dragon-year babies" extends beyond Vietnam, echoing in countries like China and Singapore. Notably, both China and Singapore experienced significant spikes in total fertility rates during the Metal Dragon year (2000) and the Water Dragon year (2012), followed by declines in subsequent years.

Analysis of total fertility rate (TFR) data over the past two decades reveals notable fluctuations in birth rates during auspicious years, particularly in urban locales. In rural areas, spikes in TFR during auspicious years, such as the Water Goat year (2003) and the Wood Horse year (2014), are evident. Conversely, urban birth rates surged during auspicious years like the Metal Snake year (2001), the Fire Pig year (2007), and the Water Dragon year (2012), with exceptions like 2001 and 2020, which were not regarded as auspicious by folk beliefs.

Pham Thi Thuy, Doctor of Sociology at the National Academy of Public Administration's HCMC branch, corroborated these observations, noting that major cities like HCMC and Hanoi have witnessed a consistent trend of selecting auspicious years for childbirth over the past two decades. Modern families, she remarked, are increasingly deliberate in their family planning, leading to fewer children and more strategic timing of pregnancies.

Nonetheless, Mai from the General Statistics Office underscored that the declining birth rate over the past two decades suggests that the preference for auspicious years has not significantly altered overall fertility trends. Moreover, experts caution against placing undue significance on being born in auspicious years, as there is no empirical evidence to support the notion that such births confer any inherent advantages. Instead, they advocate for a more pragmatic approach to family planning, emphasizing readiness in terms of health, psychology, and financial stability.

This sentiment was echoed by economist Nguyen Viet Cuong, a lecturer at the International School under the Vietnam National University, Hanoi, who conducted an analysis of data from 73,000 individuals aged 25-64. His findings revealed no discernible differences in educational attainment or occupational success among men born in auspicious years versus other years, underscoring the arbitrary nature of astrological beliefs in determining life outcomes.

As Vietnam grapples with evolving social norms and modernization, the age-old tradition of selecting auspicious years for childbirth persists, albeit against a backdrop of changing values and shifting demographics. While these cultural practices offer a glimpse into Vietnam's rich heritage, experts caution against allowing superstition to overshadow pragmatic considerations in family planning, advocating instead for a more holistic approach that prioritizes individual preparedness over astrological auspiciousness.

Viet Duc