Recently there have been many articles written on declining fertility rates in Asia as modernization impacts women’s attitudes toward marriage, society and gender roles. An interesting trend shows that while women are modern in their lifestyles, some ancient belief systems look to make a significant impact on birth rates next year.
Japan’s population has been declining for the past 26 years, and the country now has the honor of being home to the oldest population in the world. Other populations are following Japan’s model in terms of improving their health conditions and therefore increasing life expectancy – while also grappling with a sluggish fertility rate. China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan all fit this description. See a detailed graph here.
Next year will be an interesting one for the region. As the year of the dragon breathes its mythological powers into 2012, it also heralds the distinct possibility of delivering a veritable birth explosion.
Chinese wisdom has it that we are each governed by one of 12 animal signs, depending on the year of our birth. Over the last 4000 years this has permeated virtually every aspect of Chinese culture, from marriage, housing and even birth. Those that believe in this ancient form of astrology say that individuals gain a certain affinity with their designated astrological animal and even some personal traits from it.
The dragon is considered one of the four ‘divine’ animals, and the only to be represented in the yearly horoscope (absent are the unicorn, tortoise and phoenix). As such it is considered an auspicious year for births and marriages as it symbolizes strength, potency and benevolence. Traits parents hope to pass on to their children and unions. Conversely, in the tiger year, which is thought to pass on traits such as ferocity and headstrong will, fertility was seen to be particularly low. In this way, despite entirely modern lives, ancient traditions and beliefs persist.
In 1987 Taiwan waged an “Anti-Dragon Baby” campaign aimed at bypassing infrastructure pressure due to a sudden birth surge. The campaign was categorically ignored, and consequently Taiwanese population rates tripled in the year of the dragon. This year Taiwan’s population growth rate is a meager 0.2% and there has been no evidence of an “Anti-Dragon” campaign. We can only assume that Taiwan officials are not alone in the region as they hope for a significant increase in births next year.
Will China’s one child policy stop a similar trend from happening on the mainland? In July this year an official from Guangdong, one of China’s most populous and wealthy provinces, called on the central government to relax the one child policy to counter the aging population. Over the past few years, women from across China have been crossing the border to Hong Kong to give birth – some 40,000 last year alone. Some say this is a clear attempt to counter the one child policy.
Regardless of the mothers’ reasons for crossing the border (to be examined in a future post), in the first quarter of the year Hong Kong officials faced a distinct rise in birth planning from the mainland and subsequently announced they would restrict the amount of women allowed to give birth in some hospitals; starting with a complete halt to birth planning for mainland mothers for the duration of 2011. Was this due to an anticipated ‘dragon baby’ boom for 2012?
Couples reading about this phenomena now are already too late to benefit from the mystical powers of bringing a dragon into the world, but the question remains. Just what impact will the astrological calendar have on fertility rates in Asia next year?