Thursday, January 06, 2011

Dearth of a Nation

Taiwan's gov't has fired the latest salvo in its determination to get Taiwanese to have more babies: a US$1.3 billion subsidy scheme:
Under the plan, parents will be entitled to a minimum monthly subsidy of 3,000 Taiwan dollars for each newborn up until two years old and an annual schooling stipend of 30,000 Taiwan dollars for children aged two to six years.

The government hopes to encourage the public to have more children during the Year of the Dragon in 2012, which is considered the most auspicious year in the Chinese zodiac and a favourite birth sign for children, it added.

Government data showed that fewer babies were born in 2010, which was a Year of the Tiger, as some parents were anxious to avoid having children under one of the fiercest signs in Chinese astrology.

.......

The average number of children Taiwanese women have fell to 1.03 in 2009. In general, every woman needs to give birth to 2.1 children on average, merely to prevent the population from shrinking.
Subsidies for everyone! Given that the costs of child rearing really kick in after elementary school, a fact known to everyone, it doesn't seem likely that a total subsidy of less than NT$200,000 is going to have much effect on the birthrate.

A few days ago the Taipei Times had a feature on a talk given by a local expert:
Hsueh said that 20 to 30 years ago, most women gave birth when they were between 25 and 29 years old, but nowadays people tend to get married later or not all, causing women to postpone getting pregnant until they are between 30 and 34 years old. Statistics show that only 43 percent of women between 25 and 34 years old are married. The decline in the marriage rate is much more obvious than in other countries.
The expert called for a government plan to change the attitude of young people. Attitude isn't really the problem....

The Wiki entry on Aging population has a useful summary:
Asia and Europe are the two regions where a significant number of countries face severe population ageing in the near future. In these regions within twenty years many countries will face a situation where the largest population cohort will be those over 65 and average age will be approaching 50....

Most of the developed world (with the notable exception of the United States) now has sub-replacement fertility levels, and population growth now depends largely on immigration together with population momentum which arises from previous large generations now enjoying longer life expectancy.

"...largely depends on immigration..." It is not a coincidence that countries that are remarkably uninviting toward immigrants (Japan!) are facing severe aging issues. The real problem with Taiwan isn't the birthrates of its women but the way it defines who can be a citizen of Taiwan -- someone with the "right blood" only. If Taiwan had a sensibly open immigration policy, it could attract talented foreigners whose children would be certifiably Taiwanese. In a sense we already have such a policy with the children of foreign brides....

Another issue that no one in power seems to have grappled with is that Taiwan is really a not an attractive place to raise children, especially relative to income. Pollution, safety issues, school pressure -- there is a total lack of kid-oriented culture in Taiwan, with few activities and institutions aimed at expanding and growing the minds and bodies of children. Taiwan puts too much emphasis on producing more rosy countables -- because Taiwanese are so obsessed with their world rankings -- and ignores difficult to count things like livability and child growth opportunities. Focusing more on livability for kids would increase the desire for people to raise their young here. It would also give Taiwan an edge in the industry-attraction sweepstakes against places like Korea and China -- tech types prefer areas that have rich cultural and recreational options.

UPDATE: M adds insight in the comments:
However, it is also important to remember that Taiwan's birth rate among married couples is not particularly low. The main problem is that people are choosing not to get married at all. Maybe they are too busy working overtime to get round to it. A more friendly environment for adults (and in particular adult workers)is also required. In contrast older workers are much better looked after - once you have been in a job for 20 or 20 years you can get 4-5 weeks of paid leave.
This article buttresses M's point:
According to Business Weekly, the main reason for not bearing children is due to financial concerns. Even taking away the income factor, the online survey also showed only 20 percent of those who earn a high monthly income of NT70,000 (US$2,200) would like to have children in five years while 38 percent would not follow through because they feel they are too old.

The survey concluded that young Taiwanese couples who can bear children often do not, due to a fear of the financial burden, while those on higher incomes can no longer conceive children due to their age.
This article from last year makes the opposite case.
This is why the government is now actively encouraging young people to get married and have children, hoping to lower the percentage of unmarried females aged 45-49 to 18%, from 19% now, and to boost the number of children born to each married couple to 1.4, from the current 1.1.
Since the projected avg birth rate for all females this year is 0.94, it doesn't seem that married couples are much different. Females, married or single, are just not having kids, for all the reasons M alluded to. I wonder how much a role hidden employer discouragement plays.

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13 comments:

Hans said...

"Focusing more on livability for kids would increase the desire for people to raise their young here."

That's quite an often ignored aspect, well pointed out, Michael. It's time to raise that voice for the sake of children, instead of just stacking up slogans and money for it.

Okami6 said...

I talked to my wife about this and she said it was for Taipei and the rest of Taiwan gets a lot less if anything. It basically depends on your municipality or county. I tend to believe her because she pays attention to these things and grabs every spare dollar she can.

Considering what anchingban costs, I'd say it's a pittance. As much as I consider most anchingban teachers to be vicious psychotic harpies, I will say that they do do good work in getting the kids to understand their homework, pass their tests and finish their homework in an organized manner.

$3000NT/month is diapers(the good ones) and milk money. Why does a 2 year old need a $30,000NT/year schooling stipend or even a 3 year old for that matter?

I'd hit quality of life issues. Taiwan is a horrible place to have a small child. I'd like to be able to cross the road with my daughter without drivers feeling the need to run us down.

M said...

Michael - I think you are absolutely right about providing a better environment for kids to grow up in.

However, it is also important to remember that Taiwan's birth rate among married couples is not particularly low. The main problem is that people are choosing not to get married at all. Maybe they are too busy working overtime to get round to it. A more friendly environment for adults (and in particular adult workers)is also required. In contrast older workers are much better looked after - once you have been in a job for 20 or 20 years you can get 4-5 weeks of paid leave.

More holiday time would surely help. People in their first year of employment in Taiwan are not entitled to any leave at all. Between 1 and 3 years you only get 7 days. Public holidays that fall on weekends are not made up - a move by some legislators to change this has been rebuffed.

People working all those hours for low salaries desperately trying to get a foot hold on the corporate ladder don't have the time to think about romance and families.

Michael Turton said...

M -- this article from last year....

This is why the government is now actively encouraging young people to get married and have children, hoping to lower the percentage of unmarried females aged 45-49 to 18%, from 19% now, and to boost the number of children born to each married couple to 1.4, from the current 1.1.

Since the projected avg birth rate for all females this year is 0.94, it doesn't seem that married couples are much different. Females, married or single, are just not having kids.

Anonymous said...

These are points I have made in the case of Taiwan promoting tourism to attract foreign investment. They won't come unless there is a sustainable quality of life.

Furthermore, the housing bubble plays into this as well. Young people can not afford to have the space to raise children.

No worries... we'll just import Chinese children to make up the difference.

les said...

This is one of those policies I hope fails, and it will fail because the govt. as usual doesn't understand what it is dabbling in.
Basically every problem you can think of in this country would be improved by having less population. Put that billion back into programs to help those who are here and alive, now.

M said...

This is why the government is now actively encouraging young people to get married and have children, hoping to lower the percentage of unmarried females aged 45-49 to 18%, from 19% now, and to boost the number of children born to each married couple to 1.4, from the current 1.1.

Since the projected avg birth rate for all females this year is 0.94, it doesn't seem that married couples are much different. Females, married or single, are just not having kids.


I saw some statistics that suggested the main problem was that people are not getting married, but I can't dig them out now. The birth rate for unmarried women is likely to be particularly low because of traditional views that do not accept children outside marriage.
Many local governments also do not offer financial incentives for unmarried mothers.
http://www.idn.com.tw/news/news_content.php?catid=4&catsid=2&catdid=0&artid=20110105abcd004

The 45-49 statistic you show may be a little misleading because those women were in their twenties when the marriage rate was much higher. By the time women in their twenties now get to that age range, I imagine a far higher proportion will be unmarried.

jollibee's history said...

As much as I consider most anchingban teachers to be vicious psychotic harpies, I will say that they do do good work in getting the kids to understand their homework, pass their tests and finish their homework in an organized manner.

Readin said...

Taiwan could be a lot more wheelchair and stroller friendly.

blobOfNeurons said...

What we Taiwan really needs is an increase in teenage promiscuity. Problem solved.

Stefan said...

In addition to the issues already mentioned I'd guess, part of the problem is the housing situation. Families need space. If politics would manage to handle the housing bubble they might make (some) progress with the demographic issue as well.

Bryan said...

I think you guys make a strong point about employers and their effect on families. More and more corporations expect an all or nothing attitude for career movement.

I cannot speak for Taiwan, but when my wife was pregnant with our son in Japan, the day she had to announce her pregnancy to her boss was a day we'll never forget. A usually gentle and caring man changed into a rude and curt old man. The entire management chain went from being friendly and appreciative of her work to trying to make every day a challenge. Her boss and his managers were very much trying to push her out of her job.

And lets not forget that career-women are quite openly hostile to women who do not choose the same path too.

I also think the cost of living is a major issue, particularly with housing. Even if one marries when young, it takes years of combining two incomes to be able to purchase housing where the jobs are.

M said...

It would be interesting to compare birth rates for women working in different jobs. I imagine birth rates for women in the public sector would be much higher, because their rights are much better protected and they don't have to fear the type of reaction that Bryan's wife suffered.