A Shrinking Populace?

Over the past few decades, Bhutan has witnessed a constant decline in its general fertility rate


The fertility rate in Bhutan has been experiencing a consistent decline over the past few years. In 2023, the fertility rate stood at 1.866 births per woman, which marked a 1.43 percent decrease from the previous year.

Similarly, in 2022 the fertility rate was 1.893 births per woman, reflecting a 1.41 percent decline compared to 2021.

Looking back at 2021, the fertility rate was 1.920 births per woman, showing a 1.34 percent decrease from 2020. This downward trend is evident when examining the graph, as the fertility rate has been steadily dropping each year.

The declining fertility rate in Bhutan raises important considerations for the future, such as potential implications for population growth, demographic shifts, and social dynamics.

It is crucial for policymakers and stakeholders to closely monitor and understand the factors contributing to this decline, as it can have significant implications for the country’s development and well-being.

According to an official from the Ministry of Health (MoH), while Bhutan has not conducted an in-depth analysis on the reasons behind the decline in fertility rate, global studies provide some evidence.

One primary reason is that individuals in their reproductive years, particularly those who are married, are choosing to either postpone parenthood or have fewer than two children due to shifting priorities.

The emphasis on career and personal aspirations over starting a family has become more prevalent. Additionally, the lack of childcare support, including domestic help, crèche facilities, and Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centers, can hinder couples from having more children.

The absence of adequate leave policies or flexible working environments in the workplace can also influence couples’ decisions to have more children.

Additionally, the economic constraints faced by couples in raising a large number of children further contribute to the decline in fertility rates.

Infertility or medical reasons that impede couples from bearing children can also play a role. While these factors are not specific to the country, they provide valuable insights into the complex dynamics influencing the decline in fertility rates.

MoH mentions that till now no specific studies or research have been conducted on the decline in fertility rates in Bhutan, the ongoing national health survey for 2023 aims to provide insights into the current fertility rate and potential reasons behind the decline.

In the meantime, the implementation of the mother and child health policy and programs in Bhutan focuses on ensuring the survival and well-being of newborn babies.

These critical interventions may indirectly contribute to promoting population growth. It is important to gather more data and conduct further research to gain a comprehensive understanding of the factors influencing the decline in fertility rates in Bhutan.

According to them, the decline in fertility rates and the decision of couples to have fewer children is not unique to Bhutan but is a global trend.

Cultural and societal changes are indeed influencing these decisions. One significant factor is the emphasis on educational and career opportunities, which often leads to delayed marriages and starting a family.

Not only that the individuals prioritize their personal and professional goals, but the timing of parenthood may be pushed back.

Economic factors also play a role, including the cost of raising children, housing expenses, and other financial considerations. These factors can contribute to couples choosing smaller family sizes as they navigate the financial responsibilities associated with raising children.

The declining fertility rate is a matter of concern for the officials at the MoH, as it may have significant implications for the workforce and overall economic productivity.

With fewer individuals entering the working-age population, there is a potential burden on the dependency ratio, which refers to the number of non-working individuals relying on those who are of working age.

This could lead to challenges in providing adequate support and services for the aging population, placing strain on healthcare and social support systems.

Furthermore, the smaller pool of young individuals entering the workforce may result in skill shortages and knowledge gaps, impacting various sectors of the economy.

Meanwhile, to address the decline in the fertility rate, the government has placed a strong emphasis on reversing this trend as one of the priorities in the 13th Five-Year Plan.

Additionally, the ministry has implemented a comprehensive mother and child health program aimed at ensuring the well-being and survival of newborns and children.

By investing in comprehensive maternal and child healthcare, Bhutan is not only prioritizing the future of its population but also making long-term investments in human capital development, reducing healthcare costs, fostering social stability, and driving economic growth.

These efforts reflect Bhutan’s commitment to the well-being and potential of its people while aligning with national development objectives and priorities.

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