Fri, Jan 02, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Population stability is a matter of good policy

By Chien Hsi-chieh

Taiwan is facing a long-term population crisis.

Taiwan's birth rate has dropped to 1.3 per 1,000 women, one of the lowest in the world. This is a number just high enough to sustain the population. Taiwan may see negative population growth in the future.

The low birth rate will lead to many serious social problems. Social institutions like schools will have to shut down. The economy will come to a halt because of a dramatic decrease in the labor force and consumption. The youth in the future will have to shoulder the heavy burden of elder care as society ages.

Although government officials and legislators have sensed the crisis, they blame individuals for the problem. Government officials first attributed the low birth rate to today's young people being unwilling to accept responsibility, so they wanted to levy a tax on being single. Then some legislators blamed homosexuals for the low birth rate.

These absurd comments highlight Taiwan's ignorance of social welfare. By condemning individuals, politicians neglect the importance of a social welfare system.

Do young people really not want to have children?

Obviously, the answer is that they do want to have children. According to surveys by demographers, less than 1 percent of married women in Taiwan do not want to have children. Less than 5 percent of them want to have only one child. Most of them think the ideal number of children is more than two.

In other words, the problem is not that young couples do not want to have children but the fact that they feel unable to fulfill their goal of rearing children.

So the real question we need to ask is, what factors dissuade them from having children?

There has been an interesting phenomenon in the West in recent years: countries with higher birth rates are the ones where a higher percentage of women work.

The key lies in whether the overall social and economic system guarantees real gender equality in the workplace and whether it provides inexpensive public services.

Women with higher levels of education have stronger desires to develop careers. Having children often means giving up one's career. If a country's costs for birth and education are too high, more women tend to give up having children in order to pursue their careers.

On the other hand, if a country allows women to take days off to look after their babies, women naturally will be more willing to have children.

Similarly, if a country leaves child care to the market, many families will not be able to afford the expense.

The reason that the birth rate in Taiwan has reached a record low is the lack of gender equality in the workplace and a child care system that is too oriented around the market. As long as some women are forced to give up having children in order to keep their jobs, the birth rate will decrease.

Similarly, because market-oriented child care consumes half of the income made by many young couples, they will also be dissuaded from having children.

In order to solve the low birth rate problem, the most fundamental steps to take are to establish a sound system securing women's positions at work and to provide inexpensive child care services.

Neither the pan-green nor pan-blue camp is thinking about this situation in the right way.

We are facing an immediate crisis. If the ruling and opposition parties do not deal with it by proposing social policies that young voters need, what we are going to encounter is a disappearing generation-to-come.

This story has been viewed 3915 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top