HCMC facing looming crisis as birth rate plummets

HCMC has a declining birth rate from 1.39 children per woman in 2022 to 1.32 children per woman in 2023, which is below the replacement rate, causing potential harms to socio-economic growth of the city.

A newborn in Tu Du Hospital of HCMC

Economic pressures and busy work schedules are among the reasons why many women in HCMC are hesitant to have a second child. Nguyen Ngoc Anh from Thu Duc City has an 11-year-old daughter, but the couple has no plans to have more children. He explained that raising a child in HCMC is very expensive, considering the costs of food, living, education, and other necessities. He believes that they would not be able to afford to raise another child.

32-year-old Nguyen Thuy Linh from Tan Binh District shared that even without financial pressure, she and her husband still decided to have only one child to give the best care emotionally and physically.

Statistics from the HCMC Department of Population and Family Planning reveal that the city's birth rate has been steadily declining since 2000. In 2000, the figure was 1.76 children per woman of childbearing age. By 2023, this figure has plummeted to 1.32.

Director Pham Chanh Trung of HCMC Population and Family Planning Branch attributes the decline in birth rates to various factors, including women's reluctance to have children, especially a second child.

In addition, many couples are choosing to marry later and have only one child to ensure they have sufficient financial resources, time, and health to provide the best care and investment for their offspring.

Finally, young couples, particularly women, prioritize personal development, enhancing their education and professional skills, and pursuing opportunities for self-advancement over having multiple children.

HCMC is one of 21 provinces and cities in Vietnam with a low birth rate. This birth rate drop will have a significant impact on the city's future population structure, particularly labor shortage. "Furthermore, many families choose to have only one child following the 4-2-1 formula (meaning four grandparents, two parents, and one child). The severe result could be in the future, this reverses to 1-2-4 (one child may have to care for two parents and four grandparents simultaneously)", warned Director Trung.

HCMC entered its population aging phase in 2017, and the rate of aging is accelerating rapidly. Currently, the city has over 1.1 million people over 60 years old (accounting for 12.5 percent of the population). In 2022, this figure was 11 percent, and below 10 percent in previous years.

The causes of this rapid aging are low birth and death rates, and a rising average life expectancy. Population aging is putting increasing pressure on the social security system for the elderly, including pensions, health insurance, social subsidies, healthcare, and recreation.

In its Population Adjustment Program to 2030, the HCMC People's Committee has set a target of increasing the total fertility rate to 1.4 children and 1.6 children per woman by 2025 and by 2030 respectively. The city's population is estimated to reach 10.6 million by 2025 and 12 million by 2030. The natural population growth rate is projected to be over 1.1 percent and 1.3 percent in 2025 and in 2030 correspondingly.

However, the declining birth rate, reluctance to marry, and aversion to having children in HCMC pose significant challenges to achieving these goals. The declining birth rate in HCMC has far-reaching consequences beyond population structure, impacting the economy, society, and social security policies.

A couple is participating in pre-marital health checkups in Hung Vuong Hospital (HCMC)

Addressing this issue requires the collective effort of the entire political system, with a focus on policies that support families in their decision to have children and provide them favorable conditions to nurture their offsprings.

According to Director Pham Chanh Trung, HCMC is making gradual efforts to improve population quality, focusing on:

  • Promoting pro-birth policies with careful consideration, consulting experts in the field of population, and prioritizing the legitimate needs and aspirations of the people.
  • Increasing the proportion of young men and women participating in pre-marital health checkups.
  • Promoting prenatal and newborn screening programs.
  • Maintaining a balanced gender ratio at birth.
  • Raising public awareness about harmful effects of low birth rates and late marriage.

More importantly the Health Ministry is preparing a draft Population Law to meet the requirements of population work in the new context. This draft law proposes granting couples and individuals the right to self-determine the timing, spacing, and number of children, ensuring that these decisions align with their health and income conditions. They should be provided with information, access, and the choice to use family planning measures.

The draft law also mentions the responsibilities of individuals and spouses for carrying out population policies, ensuring child raising and caring, and maintaining equality in fulfilling other obligations related to reproductive health and family planning.

The Health Ministry believes that ensuring the right of couples and individuals to decide on the number of children aligns with the 2013 Constitution's provisions on human rights and civil rights.

National Assembly delegate Pham Khanh Phong Lan commented that despite having impressive birth control achievements and contributing to socio-economic developments for the last few decades, Vietnam is now facing an alarming challenge of decline in birth rates and a rapid increase in the aging population.

A birth rate drop means the number of people in the working-age population also decreases, leading to a potential labor shortage in the future. This directly impacts the country's ability to develop its economy and maintain its growth rate. A declining birth rate also leads to a changing population structure with an increasing proportion of elderly people, placing a significant strain on the healthcare and social security systems.

This necessitates timely and effective solutions to address this challenge. Identifying and implementing appropriate pro-birth measures is crucial for ensuring the country's sustainable development in the future.

A comprehensive policy approach is required, addressing questions such as incentives for having a second or third child, healthcare and education provisions for children. Only then can Vietnam overcome this challenge and continue to develop strongly in the coming years via maintaining a reasonable birth rate.

In related news, HCMC today launches the "Integrated Communication Campaign with Population Quality Improvement Services in Low Birth Rate Areas" to commemorate World Population Day. The program aims to provide information and counseling to raise awareness about the consequences of low birth rates for families and society, promote the message of "having two children," control and reduce gender imbalances at birth, and provide healthcare for the elderly.

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