by | Azmil Mohd Amin
The basic size and structure of families are changing in many parts of the world. In developed countries, delayed marriage and childbirth, and more divorces are leading to smaller families, single-parent families and people living alone. In developing countries and less developed nations people are moving away from traditional extended family structures towards smaller families with fewer children. Globally, the fertility rate is falling, resulting in fewer births and smaller families.
Smaller families cause the ageing of the world population and the changing of the structure of many societies where old family bonds are being replaced by new nonfamilial social ties.
Changes in population patterns and economy have significantly affected the Malaysian families. Over the past five decades since independence, economic development, modernization, and ruralurban migration together altered family ties and attributed to more fragmented family structures. There was a corresponding steady and noticeable decline in the average size of the family in Malaysia over the same period. 1
The falling global fertility rate is one of the most basic drivers of changing families. In 1950, the global rate (number of children per woman) was 5.02. By 2000 this had dropped to 2.65 and by 2050 it is expected to be only 2.05, below replacement. 1
In developed countries, the long-term drop in fertility is continuing as parents choose to postpone the birth of their first child. For example, in the UK there are now more first-time mothers in the 30–34 age group than in the 25–29 age group.
In Malaysia, the marrying aged trend differs between males and females. Whilst males are seen to opt for earlier marriage – the average age of first marriage for males dropped to 28.0 years from 28.6 years in 2000 – females are opting to marry later, at the age of 25.7 years compared to 25.1 years in 2000. 3
Fertility rates in developing countries and the third world are falling due to a variety of factors including rising education and income levels, government efforts to encourage smaller families (“one child” policies), and increased awareness of and access to contraception. These factors are exemplified in the declining fertility rates of China and India. China’s fertility rate dropped from 6.2 children per woman in the 1950s to 1.6 children per woman in 2004. Similarly, India’s fertility rate dropped to 3.1 in 2000–2005, from 5.9 in 1950–1955. 4 In Malaysia, the nation’s total fertility rate (TFR) dropped from 3.0 children in 2000 to 2.1 in 2012.
The drop in TFR caused the population growth rate to decline. Population growth is expected to decline further to 1.0 percent for the 2020 to 2030 period. This caused the percentage of the elderly population aged over 60 to increase. Consequently, Malaysia is expected to become an aged nation by 2030 when 15 percent of the population is made up of senior citizens.
Societal aging may affect economic growth and create many other issues including the sustainability of families, the ability of states and communities to provide resources for older citizens, and international relations. Population aging strains social insurance and pension systems and challenges existing models of social support. It affects economic growth, trade, migration, disease patterns and prevalence, and fundamental assumptions about growing older.
Other factors — beyond the demographic trends — are also helping to reshape families. For example, the social notions of family are changing; high rates of divorce and remarriage in developed nations have made “blended families” composing halfsiblings and step-parents common.
In developing and less developed countries, more complex social changes are taking place, changes that occurred years earlier in developed countries. Smaller families are being fostered by urbanization. As people move to cities to find opportunity, sustaining their traditional family structures becomes harder. Familial bonds are strained as people leave behind parents and grandparents, aunts, or cousins. In some cases, children are left behind as well. In China, internal migration to cities has resulted in 70 million children in the countryside waiting for parents who are away looking for work in the cities. 5
Income growth is fostering a move away from traditional extended families. There is a demonstrated link between a growing middle class and smaller families. Simply put, these rising social cohorts tend to have fewer children, driven by factors such as higher education levels. 6 Education about family planning and increased access to contraceptives is also producing smaller families in developing nations. This family planning knowledge is not only reducing family size, it is seen as contributing to economic growth. 7 The nuclear family – consisting of two parents and at least one unmarried child – remains the predominant family arrangement in Malaysia.
The evolution of families is occurring across the globe, but it is being manifested in different ways. Trend in developed countries is mature; families have moved past the preeminence of extended and nuclear families and are now moving into a post-nuclear family phase. This is marked by more diversity in family structures and includes more singles living on their own or with friends for extended periods of time, same-sex partnerships and parents, blended families, and even people creating networks of friends to “replace” their families. In 2005, Europe was expected to have 14% fewer nuclear families than in 1995. 8
In developing world, the trend is less advanced and is enmeshed with the trends of rising middle classes and urbanization. In this region, the change is the result of falling fertility, the formation of nuclear families, and the moving away from extended families. These will increase as modernization and urbanization continue and as incomes in these regions rise. The trend towards single-person and female-headed households is emerging as well, often as a result of the male head of household leaving to find work away from home. 9
Business sector relevance Much consumer activity takes place in the context of the family. As such, the changingfamilies trend bear significance for a variety of business sectors, from construction to leisure. New family structures will mean fewer babies, with each at the center of even more family attention. Parents and grandparents will devote themselves to the happiness and welfare of the child. The “Little Emperors” — the pampered only children born since the 1980s in China — are an example. This may develop a market for more luxury purchases for babies and children. In developing countries the shift to nuclear families, often living farther apart, means that new ways are needed to keep families in touch.
More families in developing countries feature dual wage earners. With both spouses and/or parents working, smaller households will be particularly receptive to products and services that offer convenience and help deal with accelerated lifestyles.
A significant trend that has and continues to affect Malaysian families is the rate of female participation in the labor force.
Malaysia has the lowest female labor force participation level in the Asean region. World Bank observed that Malaysia’s female labor force participation was only at 46 per cent and lower than the middleincome country’s neighbors like Singapore (60 per cent) and Thailand (70 per cent), and significantly lower than high-income countries like the UK (70 per cent) and Sweden (77 per cent). 10 Increasing female labour force participation requires balancing their competing responsibilities within the family and the workplaces. Flexible time arrangements at work, safe and high quality childcare facilities as well as ‘teleworking’ will support increasing women’s labour force participation.
The growing number of smaller households in developing countries would mean more per-capita spending on household equipage such as appliances and furniture. In many areas, change in family size is being driven by delayed marriage. This means that people are extending the life stage between education and family formation — living by themselves, or with friends, for years. These single-person and group households have different consumer characteristics and needs than those of married couples and families; for instance, having multiple decision-makers under one roof, buying smaller servings or sizes for personal consumption, and having potentially more time and disposable income than most families do.
Families are the nation most important resource. They are society’s most enduring basis for raising children, caring for family members, providing and receiving love and support, and for transmitting values, culture, language and traditions between generations. Family well-being is a concept that goes beyond economic prosperity to include things such as physical and emotional health and safety, social connectedness and quality relationships. While Malaysia is moving towards a developed nation by 2020, family well-being should contain an assumption that families work best and contribute optimally to society when there is a balance of economic and non-economic factors. While the task of deciding on that balance is a matter for each family to some extent, and is ongoing as circumstances change, it also reflects the dynamics of the social environment.
1. Subbiah,M : Demographic Developments, Family Change and Implications for Social Development in Southeast Asia.” 1994. In Social Development under Rapid Industrialization : The Case of Southeast Asia, ed. S. Chong and Cho Kah Sin, Kuala Lumpur : ISIS
2. World Population Prospects : The 2004 Revision, United Nations Populations Division, 2005
3. Population and Housing Census of Malaysia (Census 2010), Department of Statistics Malaysia
4. Mark Fritz, “US Fertility Rate Is Promising,” Portsmouth Herald, 2005, World Population Prospects:2004 Revision, United Nations Population Division 2005
5. Kazuto Tsukamoto, “Families Ties,” Asahi. com, March 5, 2005
6. Daniel Sahleyesus, ” Attitudes towards Family Size Preference Among Ethiopians,” Annual Meeting of the Canadian Population Society, June 2005
7. “Census Statistics Encouraging,” Herald, 2005;”Reproductive Health and Family Planning,” State of World Population 2005, UNFPA
8. “The Top Ten Consumer Megatrends Dictating the Shape of Things to Come,”Datamonitor, 2005
9. “Demographic and Social Trends Affecting Families in the South and Central Asian Region, ” United Nations Division for Social Policy and Development, 2005
10. World Bank : Malaysia Economic Monitor, 2012