Thailand’s median age is 40 years and two months, which is far older than the global average of 30 and five months. This alarming finding shows that if Thailand does not act now, it will be quickly swamped by challenges associated with its aging populace.
According to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Thailand’s population would have shrunk by at least 50% by 2100.
“I believe Thai governments past and present were aware of this fact.” But I’m not sure if the [incoming] government would implement clear-cut or extreme policies to address this problem,” said Professor Teera Sindecharak, a sociology and anthropology lecturer at Thammasat University.
Economic and social consequences
Teera argues that the current demographic trend may result in a half-empty infrastructure meant to serve many people. Furthermore, businesses may need help to recruit enough consumers or employees to stay in business.
“Every sector, from nurseries to schools to universities to large corporations,” he stated. “Big investments in mega infrastructure projects may be wasted because they end up serving a much smaller number of users.”
Smaller nuclear family groupings will also replace extended families, he predicts. Generation gaps will widen because people presently marry at an older age than past generations. More people will live alone while keeping in touch with friends and distant relatives. More married couples may opt against having children because they value their freedom and independence.
“Technology will most likely play an even bigger role in people’s lives,” Teera told Thai PBS. “Some people will most likely turn to the virtual world for social interaction as there will be fewer people around them, such as relatives or in-laws.”
According to him, a dwindling population could cause social problems, economic difficulties, and even national security issues.
The population situation in Thailand
Thailand has a population of 66 million people, yet at least 20% of individuals are over 60, which is anticipated to rise to 30% by 2036.
This is also the first year in which the number of people aged 20 to 24 entering the labor market is less than those retiring or those aged 60 to 64.
Thailand’s birth rate has been declining for several decades. According to Mahidol University’s Institute for Population and Social Research, half a century ago, each Thai woman had an average of slightly more than five children.
However, the average fertility rate has fallen in recent decades, from 2.2 babies per woman in 1991 to 1.1 births in 2021. As a result, Thailand’s birth rate has plummeted. Between 1963 and 1983, more than a million babies were born in Thailand yearly. Last year, though, the figure was as low as 502,107 infants.
It is worth noting that in 2021, the number of deaths surpassed the number of births for the first time in Thailand’s history.
According to Dr. Boonyarit Sukrat, Director of the Bureau of Reproductive Health, to reestablish a healthy demographic balance, Thailand must go beyond the birthrate and embrace international migrants.
“One possible solution is to import high-quality migrant workers.”
Boonyarit wants the government to implement mechanisms and strategies to counteract the risks posed by its dwindling population. He stated that these processes and policies should promote inclusivity, equality, and nondiscrimination. “Nobody should be left behind,” he emphasized.
Boonyarit also stated that the Health Department is already encouraging Thais to marry and have children through various promotional efforts to encourage the younger generation to be positive about beginning a family.
“We have also made policy recommendations to the government,” he explained.
According to Mahidol University’s Institute for Population and Social Research, Thailand will likely need to import more foreign professionals, immigrants, refugees, and migrant workers to meet labor market demands.
It proposed that the government issue Thai citizenship to approximately 200,000 qualified foreigners yearly. According to the institute, achieving that target would allow Thailand to compensate for half of the population reduction.
“We don’t need foreigners to replace 100% of the population yet because we can address the population shift with other measures,” said Prof Dr Aphichat Chamratrithirong, senior advisor at the institute.
Other solutions would include:
- Creating a quality old society.
- Updating human resources.
- Raising the retirement age.
- Replacing humans in the workplace with technology.
Teera, a Thammasat academic, agreed that authorities should ensure that couples who wish to have children receive the help they need. Meanwhile, persons who do not want or cannot have children should be educated on properly preparing for living alone in retirement.
“Those who haven’t decided should be given comprehensive information so they can make informed decisions,” Teera said.
Poor policy’s consequences
According to critics, Thailand is in a demographic crisis due to a lack of laws that encourage people to have families.
Parents are entitled to ninty 90 days of paternity/maternity leave and a stipend of 13,000 baht for each child born. Couples with children benefit from tax breaks, and parents under the Social Development and Human Security Ministry’s scheme receive 600 baht per month for each child under six.
However, these approaches could be more appealing and realistic compared to wealthy countries.
Parents in Singapore receive 8,000 Singapore dollars (about 207,000 baht) for their first and second children and 10,000 Singapore dollars for their third child.
In the Czech Republic, parents can take up to two years off at half pay and a third year at 33% pay to care for their children.
New administration, fresh hope?
According to Teera, Thailand’s new ruling party, Pheu Thai, has clear policy on increasing birth rates. For example, the party has promised to provide better benefits to new parents, such as birthing allowances, extended leave, and more generous child support subsidies. It has also promised to aid with assisted reproductive technologies in the treatment of infertility.