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Bangkok, May 18, 2016 – United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the National Economic and Social Development Board of Thailand launched their annual report on The State of Thailand’s Population 2015 “Features of Thai Families in the Era of Low Fertility and Longevity”. Working together, they examined aspects contributing to the transition from the typical nuclear family, consisting of a father, a mother, and children, in the past 25 years to more diverse family types. For example, extended families of three generations living together in a household have increased and become the dominant family type in Thai society, about one-thirds of the total number of households. At the same time, nuclear families without children have also increased three-fold while, on the contrary, the classic nuclear family with the mother, father and children has declined by half. In a bigger picture, throughout the country, more than one-fifths of the households have been found to be without children living in the same household.

Moreover, the report reveals that the so-called skipped-generation family, where children live with their grandparents or a grandparent, has doubled even though when compared with the proportion of other family types it is accounted for only 2%. Similarly, one person households have also doubled in the past 25 years and seem to rise up to one-fifths or even one-fourths of the total number of households. This is mainly caused by the increasing number of people living alone without children, higher longevity, delayed marriage, and the divorced and widowed going back to live with their own families.

The report also analyses the main factors that lead to the changing Thai families and found that the following 7 reasons are responsible for this. They are:

  1. Thai people are having fewer and fewer children. In 1964, women of reproductive age, 15-49 years old, had 6 children, on average but presently, they have less than 2 children and seem to have fewer and fewer.
  2. Thai people, especially women, are having higher longevity. In 1964, Thai women tended to live up to 78 years on average while the average age for men was 56 years. In the next 25 years (2040), it is estimated that the average age for women is 82 years and 75 years for men.
  3. With lower fertility rate and higher longevity, the shift in demographic structure will definitely occur. This means a decline in children and working age group and an increase in older age group.
  4. The rising number of working aged migrants causes a reduce in the labor force in the agriculture sector. This migration from rural to urban areas affects the decision to start a family as there are more subtle conditions for family formation.
  5. The increase in household debt impacts the decision whether or not to have children, how many, and when to have with the economic drive as a major condition since this concerns incomes, savings, and economic opportunity.
  6. Higher women’s participation in the labor market is a result of their better education which means a better job opportunity, leading to a better career advancement to upper ranking. This, on the contrary, becomes an obstacle to family formation and having children.
  7. A changing lifestyle causes changes in the norm of having a family and children. Having children today depends on mainly upon economic status, career, education and satisfaction in having a life partner, which does not have to be the opposite-sex marriage only.

 

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Opening remarks by Yoriko Yasukawa,

UNFPA’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific

 

Good morning, it is a pleasure to be able to present this report on Thai families, developed jointly by UNFPA and the National Economic and Social Development Board of Thailand. It is also particularly pertinent, as it comes shortly after the International Day of Families on May 15th.

So, why a report on Thai families?

The family is central to the mission of the United Nations, which is to support development processes that seek to guarantee the right to a life of dignity for all people, and on that foundation, build lasting peace and community.

With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the countries of the world – including Thailand — are calling for development paths that bring together the different spheres of life – the economic, the social, the environmental, and also how we are governed and how we live together as societies.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development places great priority on overcoming inequalities and exclusions and promises to leave no one behind in the effort to ensure a decent life for all people.

Families are so important for this effort because the great majority of people are born into families. We grow up in them, and live most of our lives as parts of families. It is where we first learn to live in the community and to care for others. That is why it is important as an issue of development, of public policy and of human rights, that families are guaranteed conditions for all members to live in security and health, in dignity, loved and cared for; for children to fully develop their capacities, and learn to respect and care for their fellow human beings regardless of differences in gender, sexuality, age, their places of origin or ethnicity, their beliefs or their capacities. That is why it is important that families receive the support they need from the state, through appropriate public policies and legislation, and from society as a whole.

In order for that to happen, we need to have information about how many and what kind of families exist, what is their composition, what kind of needs each type of family has, what kind of support they need to flourish. And that is what this report has tried to do for Thailand

So what have we found? Perhaps I can point to three key findings:

  1. that families in Thailand are very diverse, and that the traditional scheme of the nuclear family with the mother, the father and children is no longer the norm;
  2. that we need public policies aimed at supporting different types of families, particularly aimed at protecting and supporting the most vulnerable members, including the children, the elderly and women, especially when they are the single heads of families; and,
  3. that we need to know more about the needs of the specific kinds of families we have found in order to attend to them better.

To start with the first finding:

The proportion of extended families has increased, and become the dominant family type in Thai society, especially in the rural areas, with over half of the population living in this type of household. The classic nuclear family with mother, father, and children, that was dominant in the past, is no longer so, and has declined by half between 1987 and 2013. Nuclear families consisting of a husband and wife without children have increased three-fold. The proportion of single-parent families has slightly declined but the total number has increased from 970,000 to almost 1.4 million households. Among the extended families, the so-called skipped-generation family, where children live with their grandparents or a grandparent, has doubled in the past 25 years. And one-person households have doubled in the past 25 years

And there is great diversity within each of these different categories. For example, within the category of extended families, there are those where three generations live together, but also the skipped generation ones which I mentioned.  Among nuclear families, there are ones where both parents live with their children or child, and ones that are without children. There are heterosexual couples and same-sex ones with and without children. And so on. And each type of family has different advantages as well as difficulties, and different needs for support.

Three common threads tying together these different kinds of families are:

  1. longevity and the aging of the Thai population;
  2. declining fertility and hence families having fewer and fewer children; and,
  3. migration, especially rural to urban migration

And these three tendencies manifest themselves in different ways in the different kinds of families and also in different parts of the country.

So it is a very complicated panorama, but one that speaks well of the openness of Thai society to the different ways that people live together, love one another and care for one another. It also speaks of solidarity between generations, and the increasing freedom with which the people of Thailand choose to live their lives.

It is a challenge for the state to formulate and apply public policies that can support all of these different types of families. And if we are to take the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’ seriously, policies need to give greater priority to the most vulnerable members of families. But we need to first recognize that Thailand has already taken very significant steps in that direction. One of them is the Universal Health Coverage system that truly does cover almost 100% of the population. Another one is a system of financial support for children, including tax breaks and cash assistance. Thai law also stipulates 90 days of maternity leave and in the case of government workers, 15 days of paternity leave. These policies all constitute important support for families.

But much more needs to be done, for example in support to women so that they do not need to choose between work and children. This is especially important for women who are heads of families who need to work outside of their homes to support their families. For example, there needs to be more and better child care services, especially for children younger than two who are not yet covered by government day care centers.

Men should be encouraged to participate much more in the care of their children and their families in general. Married women spend twice as much time as married men in this task.  For men to participate more in caregiving, incentives in the workplace, such as paternity leaves, are important. But children need to be taught from an early age that it is important for boys and men to participate in caregiving – so education focused on gender equality is crucial.

Another specific need that the report identifies is support to young women and girls. Early marriages and teenage pregnancies are increasing in Thailand. Young women and girls need support to avoid marrying and bearing children too early. And if girls do end up having children they need to be supported to stay in school. In this sense, we are very happy that Thailand has passed the Teenage Pregnancy Act with just those objectives. It is very important to turn this law into concrete actions as soon as possible.

One especially vulnerable group in need of support is the elderly, and especially older women. For example, among the skipped generation households, more than half of the heads of households are over 60 years old, and almost 90% are women. Over 40% of the elderly heads of skipped generation families work in order to meet the needs of the families, and one out of five earn incomes below the poverty line.

This is worrying, but at the same time, we need to recognize that the elderly are an asset to the country. Already, often under very difficult circumstances, the elderly are making a huge contribution to the care and nurturing of families, and particularly of those who need it most – the children who are separated from their parents. So we need to focus our policies on providing the older generation with the resources they need to continue to be productive and caring members of society while minimizing the hardship and stress involved.

A type of family we need to know more about are the families headed by same-sex couples.  We do know that there is still a long way to go to ensure that LGBT people enjoy the same rights as all other people, including the right to form families and to receive the same support for them as other families do. One positive thing the report points out is that the great majority of Thais are accepting of LGBT people as friends and as a family, and over half of the people would agree with legislation that recognizes same-sex civil unions.

Another very important group of people we need to know more about, and very vulnerable to poverty, discrimination and exploitation are migrants and refugees from other countries. We need more information about them and their families to better protect their rights.

Finally, we need to pay special attention to the children, especially those who are living without one or both of their parents. Children from the poorest families are least likely to live with both parents. Given that many of the parents who are obliged to leave their children with their grandparents are migrants, it is important to provide support toward ensuring decent jobs and incomes, appropriate housing and child care, to allow migrant parents to stay together with their children. For those that are separated from their children, it is important that employers ensure that migrant workers have the necessary leave to visit their children frequently.

Coming back to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, it seems to us that at heart, this agenda has to do with giving development an ethical foundation and focus that is about building fairer, freer and more caring societies that include everyone regardless of differences. In order to accomplish this purpose, we need to ensure that all families enjoy and are able to exercise and nurture those values and principles, especially in the children. And this cannot depend on the families alone. It needs the commitment of the state, backed by sufficient resources, to support families in all their diversity, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable — to have decent livelihoods, good housing and living conditions, quality health care and education, and time to spend together, to enjoy one another’s company and affection.

At a time when the world is seeing unhappy tendencies toward intolerance and different forms of extremism that, at times, have led to violent conflict, it is also crucial that families, with the support of the state, can expand that circle of caring and solidarity to build the peaceful and inclusive societies the 2030 Agenda calls for, that continually strive to ensure a life of dignity for all people, regardless of differences. UNFPA hopes to continue to work with the government and people of Thailand to make that ideal a reality.

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