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Determinants of Fertility in Malaysia — How Much Do We Know?*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 April 2011

Soon Lee Ying
Affiliation:
Nanyang Technological University

Extract

Recent trends in fertility in Malaysia1 have created uncertainty about the course of the demographic transition. While Chinese and Indian fertility continued to decline into the 1980s, since 1978, Malay fertility has levelled off and even risen slightly. Evidence up to the early 1980s suggests that the phenomenon may be temporary, attributed mainly to the bunching of births caused by the postponement of marriage among the Malays. More recent evidence, however, point to sustained levels of high Malay marital fertility through the late 1980s — TFRs (total fertility rate) among Malays averaged 4.5 and above between 1982 and 1987 while Chinese and Indian TFRs continued to fall from 2.7 to 2.3 and 3.8 to 3.5, respectively.

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Articles
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Copyright © The National University of Singapore 1992

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References

1 The focus is Peninsular Malaysia although Malaysia is referred to throughout the text.

2 Hirschman, C., “The recent rise in Malay fertility: A new trend or a temporary lull in a fertility transition”, Demography 23, no. 2 (1986): 161–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 See Table 1 in Leete, R., “Dual fertility trends in Malaysia's multiethnic society”, International Family Planning Perspectives 15, no. 2 (1989): 5865CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Hirschman, “The recent rise in Malay fertility”.

5 Leete, “Dual fertility trends”, pp. 63–65.

6 Leete cites evidence from the 1984–85 Malaysian Population and Family Planning Survey which shows that Malays were more responsive than the other ethnic groups to the government's call for larger families. However it is doubtful that the government's new population policy actually contributed to the observed rise in Malay fertility. Firstly, Malay fertility rose even before the government's announcements (see Section 2). Furthermore, other than exhortations by the Prime Minister for Malaysians “to go for five” and public statements by some politicians encouraging earlier marriage, the only tangible benefits are the granting of child relief tax allowances for every subsequent child (compared to the earlier sliding scale) and the extension of maternity benefits up to the fifth child [see Lim, L.L., Jones, G.W. and Hirschman, C., “Continuing fertility transitions in a plural society: Ethnic trends and differentials in Peninsular Malaysia”, Journal of Biosocial Science 19 (1987): 405425CrossRefGoogle Scholar]. The National Population and Family Planning Board was also renamed the National Population and Family Development Board with more emphasis placed on its role in promoting family welfare and development. However these measures are mild compared to the policies undertaken elsewhere, for instance in Singapore, to encourage larger families.

7 For analyses of historical and recent fertility trends see especially Hirschman, C., “Demographic trends i n Peninsular Malaysia, 1947–1975”, Population and Development Review 6, no. 1 (1980): 103125CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Hirschman, “The recent rise in Malay fertility”. See also Jones, G.W. and Tan, P.C., “Recent and prospective population trends in Malaysia”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 16, no. 2 (1985): 262–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Lim, Jones and Hirschman, “Continuing fertility transitions in a plural society”. For a detailed review of fertility trends and its proximate determinants and sources of literature, see L.L. Lim and L.Y. Soon, “Fertility in Peninsular Malaysia: A review of literature”, mimeo (1989).

8 Figures for age at marriage cited here and below are from Lim, Jones and Hirschman, “Continuing fertility transitions in a plural society”, Table 4.

9 TFR figures cited here and below are from Hirschman, “The recent rise in Malay fertility”, Table 1.

10 Hirschman, “The recent rise in Malay fertility”, Table 4. “See Leete, “Dual fertility trends”, p. 60.

12 Chander, R., Palan, V.T., Aziz, N.L., Tan, B.A., Malaysian Fertility and Family Survey — 1974 First Country Report (Kuala Lumpur: Department of Statistics, Malaysia, 1977)Google Scholar.

13 Nor Laily Aziz, B.A. Tan, Ghazali M.N., W.S. Hew, S.W. Khoo, N.P. Tey, “Culture and fertility: The case of Malaysia” (Research note and discussion paper no. 19, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 1980).

14 Leete, “Dual fertility trends”, p. 62.

15 Smith, H.L., “Integrating theory and research on the institutional determinants of fertility”, Demography 26, no. 2 (1989): 171–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 H.L. Smith, “Integrating theory and research”; Hirschman, C. and Guest, P., “Multilevel models of fertility determination in four Southeast Asian countries: 1970 and 1980”, Demography 27, no. 3 (1990): 369–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

17 For a comprehensive discussion of the education-fertility relationship and a survey of empirical evidence, see Cochrane, S.H., “Effects of education and urbanization on fertility”, in Determinants of Fertility in Developing Countries, ed. Bulatao, R.A. and Lee, R.D., 2 (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1983): 587626Google Scholar.

18 R. Chander et al., Malaysian Fertility and Family Survey, Table 6.5.

19 Nor Laily Aziz et al., “Cultur e and fertility: The case of Malaysia”, p. 51.

20 Hirschman, C. and Guest, P., “The emerging demographic transitions in Southeast Asia”, Population and Development Review 16, no. 1 (1990): 121–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

21 Tan, B.A., “Fertility Differences in Peninsular Malaysia: The Ethnic Factor” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1981), p. 232Google Scholar.

22 Elm, B. Von and Hirschman, C., “Age at first marriage in Peninsular Malaysia”, Journal of Marriage and the Family 41 (1979): 877–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lee, K.H., “Age at first marriage in Peninsular Malaysia”, Journal of Marriage and Family 44 (1982): 785–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tan, “Fertility Differences in Peninsular Malaysia: The Ethnic Factor”.

23 Lee, “Age at first marriage in Peninsular Malaysia”, p. 794.

24 K.O. Mason and V.T. Palan, “Female education, fertility and family planning in Peninsular Malaysia” (Michigan Population Center Research Report no. 81–3, 1980).

25 In another study, based on a survey of women in the Kuala Lumpur metropolitan area and its suburbs, Chee also reports inter-ethnic variation in the impact of English education although he finds that it is also negatively related to fertility among Indians besides the Chinese. See K.L. Chee, “Fertility and co-resident family structure: An urban case study in Malaysia” (SEAPRAP Research Report no. 61, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 1981).

26 The classification of schooling consists of nonformal schooling only, formal schooling of less than 1 year, formal 1–6 years (illiterate), formal 1–6 years (literate) and formal of 7 years or more.

27 Wang, J.C., “The Determinants of Fertility in Peninsular Malaysia” (Unpublished Master's diss., Cornell University, Ithaca, 1986)Google Scholar.

28 Two studies however did not find a similar pattern of ethnic differentials in the education-fertility relationship. The study by Nor Laily et ai, “Culture and fertility: The case of Malaysia” based on a random sample of eight rural health districts in Peninsular Malaysia and Chee, “Fertility and co-resident structure” based on a survey of households in Kuala Lumpur (the capital city) both find CEB (children ever born) monotonically decreasing with women's level of schooling for all three ethnic groups. In the case of Nor Laily's study it could be due to the higher threshold used in the classification of schooling (5 years or less, 6 to 8 years, 9 years and above) and in the case of Chee, to the peculiarities of the sample, where the average level of schooling of Malay women was higher than non-Malays.

29 J. DaVanzo, BA. Tan and R. Othman, “Determinants of contraceptive method choice in Peninsular Malaysia, 1961–1975” (Rand Note N-2453-PC, Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, 1986).

30 Nor Laily et al., “Culture and fertility: The case of Malaysia”.

31 Tey, N.P. and Idris, A., “Factors affecting contraceptive use in Peninsular Malaysia”, in UNESCAP, Multivariate Analysis of World Fertility Survey Data for Selected ESCAP Countries (Asian Population Studies Series no. 49, Bangkok: ESCAP, 1981)Google Scholar.

32 DaVanzo et al., “Determinants of contraceptive method choice”.

33 Nor Laily et al., “Culture and fertility: The case of Malaysia”.

34 Tey and Idris, “Factors affecting contraceptive use in Peninsular Malaysia”.

35 DaVanzo, J. and Lee, D.L.P., “The compatibility of childcare with market and nonmarket activities: Preliminary evidence from Malaysia”, in Women and Poverty in the Third World, ed. Buvinic, M., Lycette, M. and McGreevey, W.P. (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1983)Google Scholar.

36 For instance, economists have emphasized that neither fertility nor female labour force participation is dependent on each other but are joint decisions that are dependent on a set of exogenous variables such as market wages, income, etc. See Schultz, T.P., “The influence of fertility on labour supply of married women: Simultaneous equation estimation”, in Research in Labour Economics, ed. Ehrenberg, R.G., 2 (Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI Press, 1978)Google Scholar.

37 Mason, K.O. and Palan, V.T., “Female employment, and fertility in Peninsular Malaysia: The maternal role incompatibility hypothesis reconsidered”, Demography 18, no. 4 (1981): 549–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

38 Yinger, N.V., “Women's Economic Contribution, Relative Income and Fertility Decision-making in Malaysia” (Ph.D. diss., John Hopkins University, Baltimore, 1985)Google Scholar.

39 See Mueller, E. and Short, K., “Effects of income and wealth on demand for children”, in Determinants of Fertility in Developing Countries: A Summary of Knowledge, ed. Bulatao, R.A. and Lee, R.D., 1 (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1982)Google Scholar.

40 R. Chander et al., Malaysian Fertility and Family Survey, p. 81.

41 Nor Laily et al., “Culture and fertility: The case of Malaysia”; Tan, “Fertility Differences in Peninsular Malaysia: The Ethnic Factor”; Nor Laily Aziz, B.A. Tan, N.P. Tey, Rohani A.R., “Ethnicity and Fertility i n Malaysia” (Research Notes and Discussion Paper no. 52, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 1985).

42 Nor Laily et al., “Culture and fertility: The case of Malaysia”, pp. 51–52.

43 K.Y. Fong, “A micro-model of demographic-economic behaviour” (SEAPRAP Research Report no. 26, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 1978).

44 Tan, “Fertility Differences in Peninsular Malaysia: The Ethnic Factor”, pp. 232–45.

45 Yinger, “Women's Economic Contribution, Relative Income and Fertility Decision-making”, pp. 114–17.

46 See Cochrane, “Effects of education and urbanization on fertility”.

47 Lee, “Age at first marriage in Peninsular Malaysia”.

48 Von Elm and Hirschman, “Age at first marriage in Peninsular Malaysia”.

49 Tan, “Fertility Differences in Peninsular Malaysia: The Ethnic Factor”, Table 6.12.

50 Bach, R.I., “Migration and fertility in Malaysia: A tale of two hypothesis”, International Migration Review 15 (1981): 505521CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 Tan, P.C., Kwok, K.K., Tan, B.A., Nagaraj, S., Tey, N.P., , Siti Norazah Z., “Socioeconomic development and mortality patterns and trends in Malaysia”, Asia-Pacific Population Journal 2, no. 1 (1987): 321Google Scholar, Table 1.

52 Tan, “Fertility Differences in Peninsular Malaysia: The Ethnic Factor”.

53 Lehrer, E. and Nerlove, M., “The impact of expected child survival on husbands’ and wives’ desired fertility in Malaysia: A log-linear probability model”, Social Science Research 13, no. 3 (1984): 236–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

54 Fong, C.O., “Socioeconomic determinants of fertility in Peninsular Malaysia”, in Population Change in Southeast Asia, ed. Arce, W.F. and Alvarez, G.C. (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1983)Google Scholar.

55 Tan, B.A., “Multivariate areal analysis of the efficiency of the family planning programme and its impact on fertility in Peninsular Malaysia”, Asian Population Studies Series no. 66 (Bangkok: ESCAP, 1985)Google Scholar.

56 L.L. Lim and L.Y. Soon, “A multilevel analysis of fertility decline in Peninsular Malaysia” (Paper presented at the Second Workshop of the Project on Fertility Transitions in Southeast Asia, Cebu, Philippines, 1989); Hirschman, C. and Guest, P., “Multilevel models of fertility determination in four Southeast Asian countries: 1970 and 1980”, Demography 27, no. 3 (1990): 369–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

57 This is probably the result of a measurement bias because current fertility, which was derived by matching children to own mother using the own-children method, is most likely to be underestimated in areas of high infant mortality. However similar regressions with CEB as the dependent variable also find that the effect of infant mortality is mainly negative, a result that could not be explained (see L.L. Lim and L.Y. Soon, “A multilevel analysis of fertility decline in Peninsular Malaysia”).

58 L.Y. Soon, “Multilevel analysis of fertility decline in Peninsular Malaysia: An examination of ethnic differentials” (Paper presented at the Third Workshop of the Project on Fertility Transition in Southeast Asia, Jakarta, Indonesia, 1989).

59 Von Elm and Hirschman, “Age at first marriage in Peninsular Malaysia”.

60 Lee, “Age at first marriage in Peninsular Malaysia”.

61 See Morgan, S.P. and Rindfuss, R.R., “Household structure and the tempo of family formation in comparative perspective”, Population Studies 38, no. 1 (1984): 129–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and sources cited therein.

62 Morgan and Rindfuss, “Household structure and the tempo of family formation in comparative perspective”.

63 Chee, “Fertility and co-resident structure”.

64 Jones, G.W., “Trends in marriage and divorce in Peninsular Malaysia”, Population Studies 34, no. 2 (1980): 279–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Jones, G.W., “Malay marriage and divorce”, Population and Development Review 7, no. 2 (1981): 255–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

65 DaVanzo et at., “Determinants of contraceptive method choice”.

66 Tey and Idris, “Factors affecting contraceptive use in Peninsular Malaysia”.

67 DaVanzo et ah, “Determinants of contraceptive method choice”.

68 Ibid., p. 25, cites evidence from the MFFS which shows similar ethnic differences in contraceptive use.

69 A.K. Wong and S.M. Ng, “Ethnicity and Fertility in Southeast Asia: A Comparative Analysis” (Research Notes and Paper no. 50, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 1985), p. 248.

70 Mason, K.O., “The impact of women's social position on fertility in developing countries”, Social Forum 2, no. 4 (1987): 718–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

71 Wherever data sources report desired fertility, the pattern consistently shows Malays with the highest number of desired births, followed by Indians and Chinese. See for example Coombs, L.C. and Fernandez, D., “Husband-wife agreement about reproductive goals”, Demography 15, no. 1 (1978): 5773CrossRefGoogle Scholar; also Wong and Ng, “Ethnicity and Fertility in Southeast Asia”. Indeed actual fertility closely parallels desired fertility unless unwanted births and infertility are common.

72 Coombs and Fernandez, “Husband-wife agreement about reproductive goals”; Wong and Ng, “Ethnicity and Fertility in Southeast Asia”.

73 Wong and Ng, “Ethnicity and Fertility in Southeast Asia”.

74 Mason, “The impact of women's social position”, p. 727.

75 Wong and Ng, “Ethnicity and Fertility in Southeast Asia”.

76 The two indicators are (1) ethnicity (the ethnic group of the respondent) and (2) ethnic affiliation which is based on two indicators: membership in ethnic associations and ethnicity of close friends.

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