Ngan, 35, was almost disinherited by her mother for refusing to have children.
She said that when she and her husband travelled from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang for a family member’s commemoration day last year, they had to answer nonstop questions from their relatives about having children.
When her mother, Van, asked them directly about their plans, Ngan answered simply: “We decided not to have children.”
The two women then went back and forth about the pros and cons of having children.
But to Ngan, no matter how much some of her mother’s points made sense, it seemed selfish to have a child simply for her own benefit.
“It’s unfair for a child to have that many responsibilities when he or she has not even been born yet,” she said.
Van realized that she could not change her daughter. So she said: “If you don’t give birth, you won’t inherit anything from us.”
In response to this, Ngan and her husband immediately returned to Ho Chi Minh City. “If you behave like that, we will visit you less frequently,” she told her mother as they left.
Ngan and her 35-year-old husband have been married for seven years. They said they had discussed having children many times, and had come to the mutual agreement that they would not have children in order to maintain the stable state of their married life.
“There are already too many people in this world. Giving birth to another child means creating more waste and polluting the environment even more,” Ngan said.
Many married couples worldwide are deciding not to have children, just like Ngan and her husband.
In South Korea for example, the total fertility rate (TFR), which is defined as the average number of children that will be born to a female over their lifetime, has fallen to 0.78, which is the lowest figure recorded in the world. Last year, China also recorded a decrease in population for the first time in 60 years. The country’s TFR was 1.15.
There has not been any extensive research on the number of married couples deciding not to have children in Vietnam, however, there are signs showing that such a trend is emerging.
A research document titled “Next Generation Vietnam”, which was put together by the British Council in 2020, pointed out that 30% of young Vietnamese reportedly prioritized career goals over marriage and familial responsibilities. It also said the new generation of Vietnamese adults were veering towards a tendency to get married later in life, and they were less willing to give birth.
A recent survey by VnExpress showed a similar trend.
Among around 1,000 participants, 61% supported the belief that “having children is not mandatory post-marriage.” Data collected last year by the General Statistics Office of Vietnam showed that Vietnamese people were generally growing more reluctant to give birth, with the nation’s fertility rate recorded at 2.01 [children per woman], the lowest point since 2018.
Meanwhile, the replacement fertility level, which is understood as the average number of children that needs to be born to a woman to sustain population levels, is currently 2.1.
Quynh Huong, 35, and Anh Luan, 41, got married eight years ago after eight years of dating. They are maintaining their wish to live on their own without children. Huong explained that she grew up watching her mother sacrifice everything for her family. She learned from an early age how difficult having children is.
Her later adult experiences in the educational field, which familiarized her with broken homes and dysfunctional families, made her even less interested in giving birth.
“I love myself to the point that I want to spend everything I have on myself only,” Huong said. Her self-love is reflected in how she enjoys traveling and being a fashionista.
Luan agreed with his wife
“We decided not to have children, so that we can have time to serve the community and pursue our personal goals.”
Not up for the task?
Thu Quynh and Tuan Dung, 34, who live in Ninh Thuan and have been married for six years, said they decided not to have children because too much money, time, resources and knowledge are required for the “task.”
“We heard many say God will help us feed our children if we give birth and everything will be fine in the end. I don’t think so, and I believe that a child’s upbringing should be done properly [by parents] instead of relying on relatives and God,” Dung said.
Of the three couples discussed in this article, only Huong and Luan are supported by their family in the decision not to raise a family. The other two said they’ve been castigated and were called “ungrateful” to their parents.
“We were once asked ‘Why did you get married if you didn’t want to have children?’ To us, marriage is a promise to stay together until the end of our lives and not something we do just to have children afterwards,” Dung said.
Dr. Nguyen Thu Giang, Deputy Head of the Institute for Development and Community Health, sympathized with the hardships these couples have encountered, explaining that it’s never easily to publicly demonstrate a viewpoint not popular with the majority of society.
Dr. Giang gave two main reasons for this emergence of the childless marriage trend in Vietnam:
Firstly, the cost of living is increasing, and Millennials and Generation Z are struggling to maintain a high quality of life. Consequently, younger couples are unwilling to take on the financial burden of having kids.
Secondly, women in East Asian countries are growing weary of simply dedicating their lives to raising families. Many want to advance their academic and career paths. Having children often gets in the way of these goals.
According to Giang: “the higher the educational level someone has, the less they want to give birth.” This observation aligns with data collected by the General Statistics Office in 2019, which showed that women with more skills and better financial savvy are less likely to have children.
But Dr. Giang said there was also another side to this coin:
“Many negative consequences are easily seen. Families have fewer members, childfree couples experience loneliness in their old age, and the country’s demographic and social welfare system are harmed in the long term,” Giang said.
Quynh and Dung say they have contemplated all of these issues. Still, they decided that they are prioritizing establishing their careers and enjoying their lives over raising a family. They plan to go to a nursing home when they get older.
“Everyone has their own lives. We don’t want to live the way others want. As long as we are happy, everybody should be happy,” they said.
Huong and Luan agree that a childfree marriage allows them to pursue their passions and hobbies. When they were younger, they did business and donated their profits to charity organizations. Luan is now working as a company director, an independent businessman, and a social activist.
Huong is running a socially-conscious business organization that aims to help children in Ho Chi Minh City enjoy their childhood. “I want to be a role model for fellow women to enjoy and love themselves.”
All Ngan and her husband want is to have a peaceful life. Her parents have not brought up the subject of giving birth in a long time.