Economy, yet again the culprit

Households without children increases

People cite economic reasons as the main factor for deciding to have less children

Replying to a question during the Eight Session of the Third Parliament on November 25, 2022, Bhutan’s health minister, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo had said that at 1.8 births per woman, Bhutan’s fertility rate is a serious concern. Adding to the concern that the minister spoke about, the National Statistical Bureau (NSB)’s Bhutan Living Standard Survey (BLSS) 2022, has pointed out that in the past five years, households without children in the country has increased.

While about 37.4% of the households were without children in 2017, in 2022 there was about 42% of households without children, an increase by almost 4.6%.

Earlier, the health minister had said Bhutan needs at least 2.5 births per woman, according to the global standard for population replacement. She had also mentioned that everyone is concerned about Bhutan’s low fertility rate and that it is a matter requiring collective responsibility.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the fertility rate of the World in 2022 was 2.428 births per woman.

While the NSB’s report does not say anything about factors leading to the increase, most people that the paper spoke to cited economic reasons as the factor determining the number of children couples decide to have.

A couple residing in Thimphu shared that they are not yet ready to have children until they are well settled. “We are living together but we haven’t thought of having a baby yet as we are not ready to raise a child,” Tshering, a corporate employee said.

According to Tshering, the expenses of raising a child at this juncture are incomprehensible. “You should look at the rates of baby soaps, creams, diapers and others,” he said, adding that though both he and his wife earn a decent salary, they cannot think about having a child at present.

Further, Tshering said that they would not have more than two children, yet again citing economic reasons. “We want to give the best to our children. If we have more kids, we will not be able to do it,” he said.

Sonam Choden, a mother of a 4 year- old daughter, spoke about “the challenges of raising a child, when the needs and wants exceed one’s capacity to pay.”

“We want to have one more child. But then, we have to think about the challenges that come. I am not saying that having a child is a sin or whatever; but then there is something called reality,” she said, underlining that it would not be fair to bring a child into the world and deprive the child from things that the child would want.

“The pain of not being able to give your child what he/she needs cannot be described,” she said. 

Nedup Chozom, a mother of two, shared that she is happy with her two children. “As of now I have two children and currently I have no plans of having another child. I am not very young now and the cost of living in Thimphu is very high,” she said.

Speaking along the same lines, Phurba Tshering, father of a 3-year old daughter said that to meet ends, he drives a taxi after office hour.

“I cannot imagine how our parents raised seven children. I know about families with 11 children also and I wonder how they were brought up,” Phurba said, adding it might be due to the country’s development.

“Perhaps, our parents did not feel the economic pressures as things that are available now were not even heard of during the past. Today, we have access to almost everything, including goods and products tailored for children,” he said.

Besides economic needs, there are other factors too, one of which is the need of a helping hand. A businessman, who did not want to be named, said that he has been looking for a maid to look after his 6-year-old son for long.

“We are a working family and cannot reach home by the time our son is home. People who have relatives and grandparents are fortunate as there is someone at home when their child finishes school. But we have none,” he said, underlining that due to “experiences of the past,” he and his wife have decided to have just one child.  

Meanwhile, Bhutan’s health minister had also spoken about the fertility treatment at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) and plans to help women conceive soon. She had also stated that the policy of a small family, a happy family, which was used in the 1960s when a woman had six or seven children, has changed.

Lyonpo had also said that while Bhutan does not have a direct policy on increasing birth, people were advised to have a good gap of about three years between the children born. She had also mentioned that 60% of women give birth within 25-34 years of age.

According to a research by the World Economic Forum, factors leading to the number of women with fewer children are women’s empowerment, particularly in education and the workforce, lower child morality and increased cost of raising children. 

Similarly, it is stated that a drop in the number of household with children could be mainly because of high moral of health and education in the country, where most people are well aware of the country’s current living standards.

According to the BLSS report 2022, from the NSB, a child is defined as persons who are below 15.

As per the NSB’s 2022 report, about 54.0% of the households have children with at least one male and one female adult, while 31.1% do not have children. In 2017, about 58.6% had children with at least one adult of each sex and about 37.4% households did not have children.

Similarly, as of 2017 about 61,411 households were without children and in 2022 the household without children was about 68.974, an increase by about 7,563 households.

Meanwhile, the population in the country is categorized into three broad age groups; children of 0-14years, working age population of 15-64 years and elderly population of 65+ year. 66.9% of the population are in the working age population; 25.2% are children and 7.9% belong to the elderly group.

Similarly, about 311,283 of the population in the country is married; about 16,399 of the population is divorced and 23,964 of the population is a widow/widower. 130,157 of the people are not married. The living together population stands at 2,401.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu