04/20/2023, 00.00
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Thailand’s demographic decline, the other side of the Land of Smiles

by Steve Suwannarat

Thailand’s population is set to peak in 2029 and then decline. The birth rate has fallen to 1.3 children per woman, while seniors are 22.9 per cent of the population in a country with an inadequate social safety net.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thailand has released its latest census data, which indicate that its population is aging. This comes a few weeks before the 14 May election, whose outcome is still uncertain amid an ongoing crisis, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Southeast Asian country is the world’s 22nd most populous country with a population of just over 66 million on 31 December 2022. It is projected to peak at in 70.38 million in 2029, followed by a slow decline to 65.94 million by 2050, then to 46.02 million by the end of the century, this according to UN estimates.

This trend appears inexorable unless other factors intervene, such as changes in Thailand’s immigration policy. Currently, immigrants, mostly from neighbouring countries, are largely excluded from Thai society. Officially, they number around 984,000, but they are thought to be in the millions.

Thailand's demographic crisis is characterised by low fertility – 1.3 children per woman of reproductive age – and an aging population, due to improved healthcare, better housing, healthier nutrition, greater individualism, enhanced women’s autonomy and new lifestyles.

Life expectancy is now 77.7 years, with a median age of 38.8 years. The percentage of seniors has risen from 20.3 per cent in 2020 to 22.9 per cent in 2023. Thais aged 0 to 14 now represent 15.2 per cent of the total population, down from 16 per cent in 2020.

The country’s welfare system is, however, selective and inadequate. Only 32.6 per cent of the workforce can count on some form of retirement pension. About 83 per cent of those over 65 continue to work to meet their needs and sometimes even those of children and grandchildren.

For all these reasons, demography has become a major topic of discussion in mainstream and social media centred on issues like national identity, natalist policies and support for seniors.

Although political parties and leaders tend to focus on short-term issues, they now must take into account the declining population when addressing voters’ concerns. None has yet made it a priority.

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