With the vast majority of Taiwanese preferring to remain single in their 20s, the island’s marriage rate has hit a 40-year low. This is problematic given an increasingly gray population coupled with the low birth rate. If this situation continues, more people will be drawing from the system than are paying into it, hampering not only social services, but economic development as well. A solution suggested by Vice Interior Minister Chien Tai-lang, would entitle single moms to maternity benefits as an incentive to increase Taiwan’s birth rate. The suggestion was met with staunch opposition from the island’s media.
According to the Taipei-based China Times, the number of single mothers has more than tripled, from 1.4 percent to 4.39 percent annually over the last 30 years. More women are having children outside marriage said Chian Chih-chie, deputy secretary-general of the Women’s Awakening Foundation, and the government could solve the problem of low birth rates by granting more social welfare maternity benefits to single mothers who are currently not covered. This would not only be fair, but would also serve as an added incentive, she said.
Not only are less people getting married, but they are getting married later. In a recent study announced on June 27, the Interior Ministry found that the average age of marriage in Taiwan in 2009 was 31.6 years old for men and 28.9 for women, an increase of half a year compared with the 2008 averages.
The decline in the number of people getting married can also be attributed to the economic recession, higher unemployment and the fact that last year happened to be a traditional Taiwanese “lonely phoenix year,” which is said to be a bad year to get married.
In a survey conducted by the China Times, only about 60 percent of respondents were married and as high as 40 percent were not. An in-depth statistical analysis also showed that 90 percent of men between the ages of 20 and 29 were not married, and as many as 71 percent of women in the same age group were unmarried. This is troubling since the 20s are the best age for conceiving children.
Remaining single or marrying later in life is also becoming more acceptable, according to the Central News Agency. Professor Wang Yun-tung of the Department of Social Work at National Taiwan University said that traditional values dictated that women had to be married by a certain age. But, as society has changed, so have its values. Wang believes that Taiwan is a diversified society, and with the rise of individualism, young Taiwanese do not feel the pressure to get married. Couples living together without the benefit of marriage are no longer stigmatized as before. Marriage is not indispensable, so more people wait to get married or remain unmarried.
Yao Shu-wen, chief executive of the Modern Women’s Foundation, believes that there are other reasons that less people got married in 2009, outside of it being a “lonely phoenix year.” Contributing factors include the high divorce rate and a lack of belief in the institution of marriage, said Yao. And, women who have worked hard in their careers are reluctant to marry later for fear of losing their independence.
The United Daily News reported that when making the remarks about single mothers, Chien also pointed out that children born outside of marriage should enjoy the full benefits of legitimacy. In France, social workers visit the homes of girls of child bearing age. As soon as they become pregnant, young women in France are entitled to government subsidies regardless of their marital status. After children are born in Taiwan, the government should extend more help and allowances to help reverse Taiwan’s low birth rate.