Penang continues to have lowest fertility rate, Kelantan highest

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow with chief statistician Uzir Mahidin.

GEORGE TOWN: The country’s fertility rate likely declined further last year, with fewer than 1.8 babies estimated to be born to each woman, matching that of 2018, chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin said today.

He said Penang recorded “severely low” numbers while Kelantan had the highest rate in the country last year.

He said Penang’s estimated total fertility rate (TFR) was “severe”, with just 1.3 babies per woman, followed by Sabah (1.4), Kuala Lumpur (1.5) and Sarawak (1.6).

Kelantan, Terengganu and Putrajaya had high numbers of 3.1, 3.0, and 2.6 respectively, compared with the national average of 2.1.

Uzir said the low numbers registered by Penang and other states were typical of industrialised states.

“Developed states see most mothers focused on studies and their careers, with the fertility window for them narrowing further as they get older. Hence, the reduction in total fertility rates,” he said during a press conference at Komtar today.

Other states that recorded low fertility rates are Melaka, Perak, Selangor and Labuan.

On the higher fertility rates in Kelantan and Terengganu, Uzir said people in the east coast states focused a lot on building families and having many children was considered normal.

As for Putrajaya, he said the high fertility rate was “expected” as it was the federal administrative centre and had a young workforce in the civil service.

What happens when there are fewer babies

Uzir said the lower fertility figures meant the current generation could not be replaced. Hence, it would be ideal for women to have at least two children.

With TFR numbers below 2.0, Malaysia would be moving towards an ageing society.

Uzir cited Perak as an example, where 30% of its population were aged 60 and above, adding that Perlis and Penang were also having high ageing populations.

He said the states with the highest ageing society, aged 65 and above, were Perak at 11%; Perlis, 9.4%; and Penang, 9%. The median age within those above 65 in Perak was 71.5.

He said the low fertility rate also meant that the older folk would not be able to retire as they would have to remain productive beyond their golden years, hence impacting their lifespans. The current lifespan for males was 72 and women, 77, he added.

“The current workforce is defined from ages 15 to 64. We have noticed that many are continuing to work beyond 64. This is what you get when the fertility rate is below 2.0.”

Uzir said the most glaring example was the old workforce ploughing the padi fields. Where one local decides to stop working, a foreigner would have to replace him.

He said it was likely that this scenario was also seen in other economic sectors.

2020 census

Earlier, Uzir announced the Penang-level 2020 census programme with Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, which will see an e-census carried out from July 7 to Sept 30 and face-to-face census-taking place from Oct 7 to 24. The last national census was conducted in 2010.

Uzir said 1.8 million Penangites would be surveyed with the help of 5,851 census takers, monitored by 812 supervisors.

He said this year’s census was comprehensive with 108 questions, compared with just 50 in 2010. In the first census in 1974, there were 134 questions.

He said census takers would interview almost everyone, including immigrants, both documented and illegal.

All are urged to take part in the e-census at www.mycensus.gov.my.