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.

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