Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Bhutan

Bhutan’s fertility rate drops to lowest ever 1.8 births per woman in 2022 from 6.6 births per woman in 1971

According to the Population Projections Bhutan 2017-2047 Report, Bhutan has been experiencing a steep fertility decline in the recent past, and it is expected to remain below replacement level in the foreseeable future.

This could not have come at a worse time as thousands of young people and middle aged professionals leave for Australia.

The current fertility rate for Bhutan in 2022 is 1.893 births per woman, a 1.41 percent decline from 2021. It was 1.920 births per woman in 2021 which was a 1.34 percent decline from 2020 with 1.946 births per woman in 2020 which again was a 1.37 percent decline from 2019. The fertility rate of Bhutan fell gradually from 6.6 births per woman in 1971 to 1.8 births per woman in 2022.

Bhutan has reached the stage of low fertility, and the birth rate will decline substantially to 11 per thousand and the annual growth rate will fall from the current level of 1 percent to less than 0.3 percent in 2047. Also, the elderly population 65 years and above will rise from 6 percent to 13 percent by 2047.

According to the Vital Statistics Report 2021, the size of the young generations started to decline approximately 25 years ago as a result of reduced fertility rates.

The report also showed that out of the total population in Bhutan, 52 percent were males and 48 percent were females. This population was further projected to reach 748,931 persons by 2020 which is a 3-percentage point increase compared to 2017. A narrowing base of the population pyramid indicates declining fertility rates in the country.

As per the National Statistics Bureau Report 2020, the number of births that occurred and registered in 2019 is 10,186 and 10,240 in 2020, which is lower than all the preceding years. But compared to 2019, there is a slight increase of 0.53 percent in live births.

The highest number of births registered in the past five years was observed in the year 2018 with 11,368 births. In all the years, the number of registered live births for males is higher than for females.

The Crude Birth Rate in 2020 is 13.7 per thousand population. There were more males than females. Out of the total live births in 2020, 5,266 were males and 4,974 were females.

The highest percentage (33.1%) of births have occurred among mothers whose age ranges between 25 and 29 years, followed by 27.5 percent in the ages 30-34 years.

According to the Age-Specific Fertility Rates (ASFR) for 2017-2020, it is observed that the highest fertility rate was among mothers of age group 25-29 and 30-34 years, and thereafter it declines gradually. It also indicates the delay in giving births as well as the increase in age at marriage.

According to international experts, a higher level of education and more career opportunities for women has led them to push marriage and childbearing so far off that they sometimes never materialize.

Millennial women (born between 1980 and 1995) are about four times as likely to have completed their education. The more educated a woman gets, the more likely she is to postpone having a child until her 30s. Women today have more life options than women did 50 years ago.

There are various factors that explain this, from increased contraception to a lack of affordable childcare, where women are choosing to be child-free.

As per the Demographic Dividend in Bhutan 2020, Bhutan has transitioned from a situation of high fertility, high mortality, and a high child dependency ratio, to low fertility, low mortality, and a low child dependency ratio.

Bhutan’s birth rates and fertility rates have been steadily declining. Today, people of childbearing age are delaying having children or not having more than one child.

Meanwhile, The Bhutanese interviewed a few women in their early 30s, late 30s, and early 40s and they all shared similar views on why they chose to remain unmarried or why they chose to have not more than one child.

A woman who is in her early 30s and is married said she said she doesn’t feel the importance to have a child of her own. She also never gave a thought to having a child of her own in all these years, in fact, she said she does not have any plans to have a child.

Upon asking the reasons, she said she already has her nieces and nephews, and that is enough. One does not need to have a biological child, she added.

While other women in their mid-30s and early 40s said, they are happy being unmarried and do not feel that they should have children of their own.

Similarly, many women who are unmarried or either married are delaying having children or none at all.

According to the staff nurse in The Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Mother and Child Hospital stated many women shared that having more than one or two children is difficult for them, as most of them are working mothers with little support to help raise their children. When they were counseled to plan for the next pregnancy, they usually hesitate or they have their own personal reasons not to go through another pregnancy.

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