How Thailand Succeeded in Their Demographic Dividend

April 5, 2013 • Family Planning, Asia/Pacific, News

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How Thailand Succeeded in Their Demographic Dividend


by Jay Gribble, vice president, International Programs Population Reference Bureau

Thailand often is held up as a model of success for its efforts in family planning, but it’s amazing how quickly the country has transformed from rural and very poor to the modern economic powerhouse it is today, in a matter of a few decades. Yet Dr. Kosit Panpiemras, former minister of finance and industry of Thailand, laid out the story of Thailand’s success in four succinct points. It wasn’t easy for Thailand to accomplish its goals, but the policies and investments the country made were strategic and targeted.

Infrastructure policies. In the early 1960s, Thailand began investing in infrastructure. The country was rural and the economy was based on subsistence farming. By building roads and installing irrigation, farmers produced more and had an outlet for selling their produce. By helping farmers get their produce to market, the economy became more focused on cash and less on subsistence agriculture. One result was that the need for large families to work the farm changed; as produce was sold, the desire for large families decreased and the desire for cash increased. And as a result, the demand for family planning increased. Another side effect was that people were available to work in places other than the farm.

Population policy. In the 1970s, Thailand turned its attention to a population policy. Because there were fewer people working in agriculture, more people began looking for other sources of work, and as a result, there was a high level of underemployment. Technocrats suggested that Thailand develop a population policy based on two key goals: reducing fertility; and integrating maternal and child health into the health system, and creating public awareness about family planning. Many people know the story of Thailand’s successful family planning program, but they may not realize that it fits into the bigger story of the country’s development.

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