Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Does Taiwan's Low Birthrate Stem From Sexual Dissatisfaction?

Patrick Cowsill put up a very interesting post arguing that low levels of satisfaction with the sex life are responsible for Taiwan's low birthrates.

According to recent reports, Taiwan's women are not sexually satisfied. This might account, at least partially, for Taiwan's low birthrate, which is anywhere from 2nd lowest to 5th lowest in the world, depending on whose stats you're looking at. As it is, Tawian's birthrate is at around 1.2 if you count transnational marriages; these marriages account for around 20% of all the babies being born in the country today. It's much lower than that if you want to disregard the "foreign" effort, some say even .91. To sustain a healthy rate of population growth, it needs to be around 2.1.
I personally think that sexual satisfaction has very little to do with the birthrate. The study that Cowsill cites for Taiwan's low sexual satisfaction -- a conclusion that I agree with wholeheartedly after many years of listening to women here -- also notes that Austria has the highest sexual satisfaction. Their conclusion was that societies where male dominance is the order of the day experience the lowest levels of sexual satisfaction. Continuing from Cowsill's site:

a.) Chicago Tribune (April 19, 2006): "Survey of 29 nations shows male-centered cultures least satisfied, finds that the most sexually-satisfied are 1. Austria, 2 Spain, 3. Canada, 4. Belgium, 5. U.S.A. and the LEAST SEXUALLY SATISFIED are: 1. Japan, 2. Taiwan, 3. Indonesia, 4. China, 5. Thailand."

Look who is 1 and 2 -- Austria and Spain. Yet birth rates in those countries are nearly as low as Taiwan's. Clearly sexual satisfaction isn't an issue in the birthrate.

The real explanation for Taiwan's low birthrates may well be connected to male dominance, but not crudely through sexuality. First, a large number of females in their 20s and 30s are effectively living without men. Statistics vary, but in both Taiwan and Japan, somewhere between a fifth and a third of all females are not married (Japan has some of the world's lowest out of wedlock birth rates) and not planning to be married. That is an important consequence of the rising standards of females on the island, and the lagging standards of the males.

Second, much sex takes place in contractual form -- prostitution is widespread and socially approved -- and is unlikely to lead to children, another bit of fallout from male dominance.

Third, the cost of having children in Taiwan is astronomical and rising, so people have fewer of them. Male dominance affects this in two ways. I suspect that the low involvement of Taiwanese fathers in child rearing drives women to have fewer children. I suspect also that patriarchy is responsible for the lower emphasis on children's needs in local society as well, since adult male needs have the greatest priority.

Fourth, contraceptives are easily obtained and in widespread use, as is abortion -- Taiwan has very high abortion rates.

Your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Spain is a very male chauvinistic society, so if sexual satisfaction has to do with the place of men-women in society, then it doesn't explain Spain.

I don't know about Japan or elsewhere, but in Taiwan, the low birth-rate has to do with all-female all-male high schools (although it has always been this way, there used to be much more mixing among the sexes in other social settings via siblings, local activities, etc.).

Unknown said...

Okay, sure, I agree that people need balance in the gender equation, and male-dominance is a problem here.

I think you, Michael, and so many others going on about falling birthrates in Japan and Taiwan is not very productive, however. What's the big deal. There are too many people, anyway! A better thing would be to allow more immigration and emigration, transnational marriages. The problem is that so many bigots exist in every country, from Taiwan to Canada, from the United States to Japan, etc. And you know, the statistics that you cited didn't take into account that Canada (which is number three in sexual satistfaction) has a startling rate of falling birth stats.

I often think about the fact that the island of Taiwan is smaller than Vancouver Island. Hardly anybody lives in Vancouver Island. Not that we sould be chopping up more trees in Clayoguot Sound again, but let more Taiwanese emigrate!

I think overpopulation is a problem, as is the population density. And let people people come to Taiwan to be doctors or housekeepers and construction workers (but legally and with better legal protection than already exists).

Mark said...

This idea that chauvinism lowers birthrates is one of the dumbest ideas I've ever heard in my life. Countless developed countries around the world that have low birthrates are far less chauvinist than they were a few generations ago, during which they had high birthrates. Even now, France has a much higher birthrate than its western European neighbors, and France isn't exactly a place with a shortage in chauvinism.

I agree with thoth that Taiwan is just way to crowded already, and of course economic factors play a role. Another topic that these sorts of papers always avoid for political reasons is abortion- for every baby born in Taiwan, two are aborted. Aside from whatever philosophical issues this practice raises, the effect on the the birthrate is undeniable.

Anonymous said...

There was a recent article in the Taipei Times about Japan: Young Japanese not having enough sex, survey says.

However, I think declining birthrates have more to do with social and economic reasons than the frequency of people having sex.

I think to some extent declining birth rates have to be accepted. They are not necessarily a bad thing given that Taiwan is a densely populated island with its infrastructure stretched to the limit. Also in the context of the global environment problems it reduces strains on the world's resources.

What matters most is that governments adapt to the low birth rates and implement good policies to cope with the effects.

Patrick Cowsill said...

I was taking a bit of a piss here, I admit it.

The US birth rate is 2.2. Canada's birth rate is 1.7. I think the main reason for this isn't the great sex that North Americans are obviously having. The US and Canada have open immigration policies. Taiwan does not encourage people from other countries to come here, and makes it very difficult for "foreigners" that are already here to stay.

Every year, around 10,000 Taiwanese become American citizens. The last time I checked, 11 Americans had been naturalized Taiwanese.

Paul Cowsill said...


Here is the original e-mail message I wrote on this topic on March 16th.

Re: the article "Survey: 40% of Japanese not having sex" in yesterday's China Post (from Tokyo AP), reports that a record of 39.7% of Japanese ages 16-49 have not had sex for over a month. According to the Japan Family Planning Association, the reasons include stress from busy working lives and a decline in physical communication skills in an increasingly Web-based society.

According to a global study of sexual attitudes and behaviors, "Male-centered cultures where sexual behavior is more oriented toward procreation tend to discount the importance of sexual pleasure for women." Here are some related links.

Chicago Tribune (April 19, 2006): "Survey of 29 nations shows male-centered cultures least satisfied," finds that the most sexually-satisfied are 1. Austria, 2 Spain, 3. Canada, 4. Belgium, 5. U.S.A. and the LEAST SEXUALLY SATISFIED are: 1. Japan, 2.TAIWAN, 3. Indonesia, 4. China, 5. Thailand.

University of Chicago News Office (April 19, 2006): "Gender equality leads to better sex lives among people 40 and over." (The study was conducted in 29 countries and involved surveying 27,500 people. "The study, which was intended to draw out people's subjective evaluation of the role of sex in their relationships with partners, included questions about how physically or emotionally satisfying their relationships are and how important sex is to them. They also were asked about their overall happiness; physical and mental health circumstances, including sexual dysfunction; their attitudes toward sex; and their attitudes toward various social and demographic factors, including age, education, income and religious affiliation.")

National Public Radio (April 21, 2006): "Global Sex Survey: Satisfied in the West," reports that "Israeli women placed the highest value on the importance of sex -- THE LOWEST SCORE CAME FROM WOMEN IN TAIWAN. Among men, Brazil scored the highest and Thailand the lowest" and "overall, people in Austria are most satisfied with their sex lives, and Japanese are least satisfied."

BBC News (April 19, 2006): Middle Aged 'still enjoying sex'," reports that "the research, which analysed the results of questionnaires carried out by urologists, psychologists, epidemiologists and sexologists, also revealed significantly different rates of satisfaction between men and women" and that "The lack of foreplay was also a reason for lower levels of satisfaction between men and women, the research suggested. This was particularly problematic in some male-dominated cultures in Asia and the Middle East."

Anonymous said...

It's feminism. Taiwanese women have become modern and career-oriented. Before you mentiOn France, the US or Sweden as exceptions, realize that penniless, uneducated immigrants contribute hugely to the relatively high birth rates in these countries, so I don't think they're good examples. All rich countries are contending with low birth rates.