Brunei’s total fertility ratio below replacement level

Azlan Othman

Brunei Darussalam is among the five ASEAN member countries which have a total fertility ratio (TFR) below the replacement level, World Bank data revealed.

The other four countries are Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Replacement level is a theoretical line in which the population of one generation is able to replace themselves to create another generation.

The fertility rate for locals (Brunei citizens and permanent residents) was slightly lower than the global replacement level at 1.9 births. Meanwhile, the fertility rate for temporary residents was 1.5 births.

The fertility rate in Brunei Darussalam is similar to developed countries such as Australia. Globally, Niger has the highest fertility rate at 7.2 births, the World Bank stated.

ASEAN has drifted in terms of fertility rate, contrary to its economic growth. The Department of Economic Planning and Development of the Ministry of Finance and Economy in its Vital Statistics also stated that the fertility rate showed a consistent trend of 1.8 births per woman aged 15-49 in 2017. This fertility rate is below the global replacement level which is 2.1 births.

The TFR of Southeast Asia has dropped from 5.5 in 1970 to 2.11 in 2017. Half of the region is already facing a ‘baby bust’, where there are insufficient children to maintain the population size. It is feared that the decline will have grim economic consequences.

A 2019 report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) titled The disappearing workforce highlighted the need for ASEAN member countries to think about fertility rates before it’s too late.

As ASEAN member states transition to aged societies, a large portion of their spending will go to healthcare and infrastructure costs for the elderly, while the working-age population that drives the region’s economic growth decreases.

The EIU found that the factors driving the fall in fertility levels include rapid urbanisation and migration from rural areas to the city, which contributes to the higher costs of raising children and the lack of affordable housing for family building.

Another factor is the shift of focus from ‘quantity’ to ‘quality’, where a greater emphasis is placed on raising fewer children with a better quality of life as opposed to having as many children as possible.

ASEAN memberstates are in the process of becoming ageing societies.

A demographic makeup of ageing generations who are less productive will place a burden on the healthcare systems of all these countries while a shrinking workforce can also result in institutional, economic and social issues.