Academic Explains Why Malays Have A Higher Fertility Rate Than Chinese

Data suggests that for every 1,000 Malay and Chinese women, there are 1,300 fewer babies born in the Chinese community.

Cover image via Pantai Hospital & Bernama via New Straits Times

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According to data from the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), Malay women gave birth to 61% more babies than Chinese women

DOSM revealed last year that the Malay demographic recorded the highest Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 2.1 babies per woman, followed by the Indian community with 1.6 babies and the Chinese community with 0.8 babies, reported FMT.

In other words, for every 1,000 Malay and Chinese women, there are 1,300 fewer babies born in the Chinese community.

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Freepik via FMT

To explain the significant disparity in fertility rates between Malay and Chinese women, an academic attributed it to differences in cultures and beliefs

Nik Norliati Fitri Md Nor, a researcher in demography and ageing population at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said the disparity is mainly due to the teachings of Islam and their cultural traditions.

"The Malay community desires to have many children as it aligns with the encouragement in Islam to increase the followers of Prophet Muhammad SAW.

"The values and traditions of the Malays also emphasise the expectation that children will care for their ageing parents in the future.

"Islamic teachings also emphasise that children are a profound blessing, and sustenance for the children has been assured by Allah," she told FMT in an interview.

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Normah Medical Specialist Centre

On the other hand, Nik Norliati said the Chinese community tends to prioritise the pursuit of wealth and adopt a 'quality over quantity' mindset when it comes to childbirth

"The Chinese culture prioritises providing education for children and emphasises wealth and prosperity. Many Chinese families also tend to focus on attaining a higher quality of life and personal satisfaction.

"The use of contraception and family planning methods in the Chinese community have also increased as they [prefer] to control their family size according to their capabilities," she explained.

Dr Choong Sim Poey from the Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia agreed with Nik Norliati, adding that the high cost of education could also be a factor contributing to the lower TFR among the Chinese community.

"Even worse is the fact that after attaining success in higher education, they are encouraged to emigrate, further skewing the racial balance," said Choong.

Apart from the disparity in TFR among different ethnic groups, Malaysia's overall TFR has also dropped from 2.2 to 1.6 between 2011 and 2022

Citing data from the US's Central Intelligence Agency, FMT reported that the country's TFR dropped to 1.73 in 2024.

Nik Norliati Fitri explained that the phenomenon is due to the rising cost of living and women's participation in the workforce.

"There are various factors contributing to the decline in fertility among these three ethnic groups, including the increasing cost of childcare, education, housing, and healthcare," she said.

She advised the government to tackle the low fertility rate by providing affordable reproductive healthcare, implementing education programmes to increase awareness of fertility issues, and providing financial support to people facing difficulties in seeking infertility treatments.

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Bernama via New Straits Times

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