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Rising number of unmarried women lowering Burma’s birthrate

While married women in Burma continue to have a high fertility rate, the country's overall birthrate is lowered by the growing number of women who never marry. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)

An exceptionally high proportion of women in Burma are remaining unmarried late into their childbearing years, resulting in a decline in the country’s birthrate, according to the latest data released from the 2014 national census.

The data was included in one of three thematic reports presented by the Department of Population at an event held at Naypyidaw’s Thingaha Hotel on Tuesday. The reports dealt with the census’s findings on mortality, maternal mortality, and fertility and nuptiality.

“The gap between the fertility rates of married women and the low overall birthrate is due to the high proportion of women remaining unmarried,” said the department’s director, Dr. Khine Khine Soe, in a presentation on the report on fertility and nuptiality.

Noting that 14-15 out of 100 women between the ages of 45 and 49 were unmarried, she said that this was one of the leading causes of Burma’s declining birthrate.

“In order to tackle this, we need to introduce policies for family planning, maternal care and care of children under the age of one, as well as conduct research on why more and more women are remaining unmarried,” she said.

Despite the decline in the number of children being born each year in Burma, the country’s fertility rate (measured by the number of children per woman) is still relatively high for the region, she said.

“On average, there are 2.5 births per women, which compared to some other Asian countries is a moderate level,” she said, noting that the figure for married women was much higher, at five births per woman.

In neighbouring Thailand, which has a much more advanced economy, the fertility rate is 1.5 births per woman — below the level needed to maintain the current population level.

She added that there was also a significant gap between the fertility rates of women in cities and those living in rural areas, where women typically have as many as six or seven children.

The Department of Population is aiming to publish all of its findings from the 2014 census before the end of next year.