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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Low birth rate of Malaysian Chinese

People are talking about the pathetically low birth rate of Chinese Malaysians at 1.4. In other words, a Chinese Malaysian woman on average gives birth to only 1.4 children.

1.4, by international standards, is not really that low. I checked the 2015 birth rates for some countries, and found even lower birth rates in Hong Kong 1.17, Macau 0.93, and the global champion Singapore at 0.8.

So, low birth rate is not exclusive to the Chinese community in Malaysia, but a rather universal phenomenon in the Chinese Diaspora worldwide. Urbanization in these places has brought on chain effects. People are relying more on double incomes to stay afloat, and are more concerned about better quality of living.

Moreover, the trend of late marriages and increased preference on bachelorship have all conspired together to produce the relatively low birth rate among Chinese Malaysians.

So, there is no justification to point the finger at young Chinese Malaysian couples for refusing to bear children. This is just a shift in lifestyle not unlike a person now in possession of a mobile phone is very much less likely to use a corded telephone. Just that simple!

1.4 should not be good reason to arouse this much anxiety, but the question is, comparing our 1.4 to the 2.6 of the Malays, this could trigger quite some alarm in the Chinese community, indeed.

Simple demography tells us that the Malays are already in the majority. This, coupled with their relatively high birth rate, will only widen further the gap between their population and ours.
Chinese Malaysians will be reduced from a minority to a very small minority in the long run.

And demography is all about politics and economics. The drastically reduced population ratio of Chinese means their political power is poised to take a further beating and this will also have some bearing on its economic strength. In short, Chinese Malaysians must brace themselves for eventual marginalization.

On the one hand Chinese families yearn for smaller household sizes in a bid to maintain the quality of their spiritual and material lives; on the other hand they must also come to terms with the possible consequences of marginalization.

Is there a way out for such predicament? Sorry, I can't see any possibility of such change.

No matter how our community leaders and organizations have been working hard to encourage Chinese Malaysians to have more children, things are not going to change much, as young Chinese women are reluctant to have a whole dozen of children as in their mothers' or grandmothers' times. And new generation Chinese men will find it tough to bear the stress that comes with a bunch of little ones, as well.

Not even affluent societies in the likes of Japan and Singapore are able to reverse this birth pattern.

So, the anxiety in the Malaysian Chinese community is very real, but there is nothing they can do to change the status quo. Perhaps the only thing they can do is to accept the reality and change their attitude.

We can no longer expect ourselves to compete with the mainstream community on an equal footing in numbers, especially when it comes to politics. There are fewer than three dozens out of 222 parliamentary constituencies where the Chinese can claim majority, and this number will only go down as the years go by.

Chinese Malaysians must learn to get along peacefully with the majority community in this country, trying to understand their insistence on their ethnic attributes and religious faith, as well as their sense of insecurity towards the existing living environment.

We have to learn to accept our common grounds in reducing exclusionism and confrontation as we attempt to make up for the broadening number gap.

We can only dilute our anxiety through mutual understanding and integration in minimizing inter-community suspicions and differences.

Another unchangeable constant is that we should strive to enhance our own quality through education to become a more progressive, competitive and globalized community to offset our shortcomings in numbers.

By Tay Tian Yan Translated by Dominic Loh
Sin Chew Daily

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