Prudent ways the key to having more children

Be thrifty and prudent and your children will be fine, says Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) senior vice-president K. Koris Atan.

He said sound financial management was important and parents, who could afford to, should have more children.

According to the National Statistics Department's Population Projections for the next 25 years, the Malays would comprise 54.1% of the population in 2040, while the numbers of the minority communities would decrease.

Koris, who is also Penang Consumer Protection Association president, urged minority communities to have more children to maintain the country's multi-racial composition.

He said three or four children were feasible for middle-income families.

"We need a robust and strong population because our nation is ageing. Yes, inflation and the Goods and Services Tax have made things more expensive but middle-income families can afford to have more children if they manage their budget well.

"Primary and secondary school is free. We have many public universities but students must work hard. Public healthcare and transportation is also cheap," he said.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, it would cost over US$245,000 (RM912,527) for a middle-income family to raise a child born in 2013 to the age of 18.

The latest estimate is based on the cost of housing, food, transportation, clothing, healthcare, education, childcare and miscellaneous expenses, like haircuts and mobile phones but does not include college education.

Koris said a similar study should be conducted in Malaysia.

"I don't think a detailed study has been done to see how much it would cost to raise a child here," he said, adding that it would probably be "much less than RM100,000".

Fomca secretary-general Datuk Paul Selvaraj said a recent survey showed that the cost of childcare made up most of the expenses of young families.

"Unlike the old days when families lived with their in-laws and relatives, married couples now live by themselves and their kids.

"And, the majority of them are dual-income households," he said, adding that childcare services, housing and car instalment payments are so high that most families don't have savings," he said.

Selvaraj said daycare or maid services were a necessity and not a choice or a luxury, even for lower income families.

"Food, tuition, co-curricular activities and transport also take a toll on the finances.

"The income is fixed but the costs keep rising," he added.

Monash University Sunway Campus School of Arts and Social Sciences senior lecturer Dr Yeoh Seng Guan said parents, especially those living in competitive urban centres like Kuala Lumpur, wanted to provide the best for their children.

Last month, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim urged Malaysians to have more children, ideally three or four, to address the projected shrinking population.

She said the average fertility rate of Malaysians in 2012 was 2.1 children and it was expected to drop to 1.91 in 2020.

Commenting on this, Dr Yeoh said the number of children which couples produced were a "complex and changing mix" of planned and unplanned pregnancies.

He said birthing choices, the couple's economic profile, degree of adherence to traditional gender ideologies, availability of familial support for raising larger families and accessibility to birth control methods were all factors.

"So, even if there are economic incentives such as long term income tax and educational relief provided by the Government to encourage childbirth, there's no guarantee that couples will respond positively," he said.