Policy Gaps in Achieving Sustainable Population Development

Globally, population development policies are evolving through three more-or-less distinct phases. Phase 1 marks a period where mortalities are generally high, fertilities are generally high, and the population is relatively young, where its pyramid is wide at the base. Population policies in Phase 1 are centred around lowering mortality and fertility rates, and ensuring that the population has access to basic education and healthcare. Premised on the evolution of policies,

“Phase 1 in Malaysia can be broadly marked in the time period spanning from 1960s to the mid-1980s.”

Phase 2 marks a period where mortality rates have improved to such levels that the population can expect to live increasingly longer, on average. Earlier family planning policies have succeeded in bringing fertility levels down, and while fertility levels are still high, they begin to experience a downtrend. As mortality rates have become stable, population policies in Phase 2 are now centred around fully capitalizing on the temporary surge in a large and youthful working age population for economic growth (i.e. the First Demographic Dividend), due to the success engendered by policies in Phase 1. In particular, gender equality rises to the forefront, both in terms of social and economic equality, and Phase 2 marks a period where the labour force participation of women rises, significantly closing the gap between the participation rates of men and women.

Phase 3 generally marks a period of both low mortality and fertility, and experiences a significantly large proportion of elderly population. This describes the typical ageing nation scenario, and population policies are now centred around the wealth accumulation of its population throughout the working-life of the population, both to drive the economy forward and to ensure self-sufficiency of the population to support itself during old age (i.e. the Second Demographic Dividend), as the nation can no longer solely depend on the “size” advantage of its population structure to drive economic growth.

“Malaysia is currently transitioning between Phase 2 and Phase 3, neither fully achieving the developmental milestones typical of Phase 2 nor prepared enough for Phase 3.

The population policy challenge of Malaysia today is, thus, twofold: (1) Firstly, to ensure that existing policies are enhanced, such that developmental milestones in Phase 2 are fully met; (2) Secondly, to mainstream policies required in Phase 3, to ensure a smoother transition and quicken readiness for the next phase.

The 6 Downside Risks to Unsustainable Population Development

The key findings in the previous section demonstrate the need for intervention measures to be implemented. Non-interventions will lead to potential downside risks that will prevent the nation from achieving its desired future state. The following situational analysis framework delineates the downside risks that need to be mitigated.

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