Tag Archives: low birth rate

Declining birth rate in face of rapidly aging population

According to the latest population projection by the cabinet-level Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD), Taiwan faces an accelerated aging population and declining fertility. In more than four years, the elderly population will outnumber the juvenile population, the United Daily News reported.

Taiwan’s postwar baby boomers will turn 65 in 2016, leading to a wave of retirement, with seniors exceeding more than three million. And in fifteen years, namely by 2027, Taiwan will run out of its “demographic dividend”, because every two young adults will be responsible for the care of either someone elderly or a child, further burdening the younger generation.

Losing demographic dividend

The “demographic dividend” exists when the dependent population accounts for less than 50 percent of the total labor force, that is, “two people raising one”. Currently Taiwan enjoys the dividend with the working population accounting for 70 percent, meaning about 3.5 people raise one. The “demographic dividend” was previously the island’s major impetus behind its rapid industrial development from the 1960s to 1990s when high economic growth enabled Taiwan to become one of the so-called Asian tigers.

The Taipei-based China Times reported that Taiwan’s aging population index climbed to 76.2 percent at the end of 2012, according to the Interior Ministry. Though still lower than the serious aging population index in Japan, the ratio is higher than that of the US, South Korea, Singapore and other countries, and is gradually inching up to European countries like the United Kingdom and France. This trend is really worrisome. According to CEPD estimates, as Taiwan’s aging population will outnumber its juvenile population by 2016, resulting in its aging index topping 100 percent. In 2060, Taiwan’s aging index will go up to 401.5 percent, meaning the population over the age of 65 will be about four times the population under the age of 14.

The paper pointed out in an editorial that with an increasingly aged population combined with declining fertility rates, Taiwan’s government must ensure the financial soundness of its social systems to provide for the elderly in terms of healthcare services and long-term care.

Low birthrate is the reason

The Central News Agency reported that it will only take Taiwan 32 years to move from an aging society to a super-aged society. In comparison, it took France 156 years, the US 92 years and Japan 35 years. This means that the increase in the aging population has sped up, and Taiwan’s government has even less time to prepare for it.

The culprit behind Taiwan’s aging population is its low birthrate. The number of newborns in Taiwan is one-third less than that of 15 years ago. At this pace, by 2016, one-third of the current universities will be forced to close.

Last year, the birth rate increased slightly since it was the Year of the Dragon, long considered to be the strongest and luckiest of the zodiac animals. And since the dragon has long been an emblem of the imperial families of ancient China, ethnic Chinese have always believed that people born in a dragon year will have a smoother life. During the most recent dragon year, approximately 230,000 newborns arrived, the highest in a decade. While the number of newborns in 2010 reached a historical low, about 170,000. This year’s birth rate is expected to be around 180,000, the United Daily News reported.

Considering newborns as public assets

Although an obvious solution to there being too few babies is to encourage people to have more babies, it is easier said than done. In a letter to the China Times, Wu Pin-wei, who gave birth to a baby in the Year of Dragon, attributed the low birth rate to the economic downturn in Taiwan, since married couples are wary about starting a family during times of economic uncertainty. There are also other causes, such as people getting married much later.

The best policies to encourage couples to start a family in Taiwan are the length of parental leave and the child-care allowance in the first six months of a child’s life. But many parents dare not ask for leave due to pressures at work. If the local government could set up high quality, inexpensive public childcare centers, Wu believes that young couples’ fertility rate would improve.

Wu noted that Taiwanese people must reach a consensus to counter its low birth rate by seeing children as a public asset, thereby providing adequate parental support. It should be done for those parents who are willing to have children, while those who do not want to bear children can make a contribution towards improveing the child-rearing environment by paying more taxes, said Wu.

Most Taiwanese women opt to be single, childless

According to a recent survey by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS), 250,000 marriageable single women (about 18.46 percent of unmarried women) chose not to get married and nearly 70,000 married women do not plan to have children. This is a record high number in both categories in the history of the survey.

Taken every four years, the DGBAS’s “women’s marriage, fertility and employment” survey showed that 60 percent of single women between the age of 25 and 49 have not married because they have not met the right partner, 11 percent opted for being single for economic reasons, and 5.98 percent did not take the plunge for fear of getting into a bad marriage. The same survey also showed that unmarried women over the age of 15 accounted for 31.12 percent of Taiwan’s female population, while that was 28.82 percent 20 years ago, according to excerpts reported in the United Daily News.

Child subsidies would help

According to the survey, the average number of children that a married woman has is 2.52, a 0.6 decrease from 3.12 children in 1990. This figure showed a steady decline of married women having children. Also, the average time spent on housework for married women  was 4.27 hours a day, while married women without children only spent 2.32 hours.

Needless to say, having children cost time and money. According to the United Evening News, the average cost for caring for a child under 3 is NT$14,752 (US$500) per month. Given these added costs, over 30 percent of women believe that giving subsidies to take care of children under 6 would help encourage Taiwan’s fertility rate.

Higher education and equality are factors

The United Daily News reported the reason behind the rising number of Taiwanese women not getting married or bearing children has something to do with their increased education and growing self-awareness. According to the survey conducted by the Ministry of Education in 2009, among the population of 45-64 years of age, the ratio of women with higher education was 60 to 70 percent of their male counterparts. But for women aged 25-34, they have more higher education than men overall. From a gender perspective, having a higher education affects women’s inclination to marry and have children more than it does for men.

On March 7, Taiwan’s Premier Wu Den-yih said Taiwan’s women’s rights ranked the first in Asia and the fourth in the world based on United Nations’ ratings. Taiwan is only behind the Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland. This distinction is only possible through the joint efforts of all Taiwanese people.

 Continuing imbalance in sex ratio

 The landscape of marriage will also change with the high ratio of boys to girls. As reported in the United Daily News, of the age group 25 to 44 years in 2009, men outnumbered women by 430,000 by a ratio of 10:7. According to the survey, before 1986, Taiwan had a normal sex ratio – for every 100 newborn girls, there were 103-107 boys. But the imbalance in the sex ratio began after 1986, especially in the first half of this year when the male and female sex ratio of newborn babies reached 110:100.

According to the Interior Ministry’s statistics, there were only 82,712 infants born in the first half of 2010, among them 43,348 boys and 39,364 girls, a difference of nearly 4,000 boys. In 2009, of the 190,000 babies born, the sex ratio between boys and girls was 108:100. Although it was Taiwan’s lowest in the last ten years, it was still the ninth highest imbalanced sex ratio in the world. By 2010 the sex ratio imbalance was worse, hitting a six-year high.

In the last 20 years, the number of boys born has outnumbered girls by 12,700 per year on average. And, if more Taiwanese women are electing not to get married, then this could mean that more Taiwanese men will not have the chance of matrimony, unless they look overseas.

Single men outnumber women in Taiwan

According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Interior, single men from ages 24 to 28 will outnumber women by 120,000 in four years. They already outnumber women by 7,900 this year, but the gap will increase 15 times thanks to fewer births. As more women decide not to marry or to marry later in life, Taiwan’s birth rate has declined steadily. That means that the men in Taiwan will face keener competition for their potential wives.