Wed, Nov 01, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Government ignoring basic birth rate math

By Yaung Chih-liang 楊志良

Third graders might have difficulty with multiplication and division, but they can cope with addition and subtraction of large figures. They might have difficulty extrapolating economic or climate change trends, but they will not find extrapolation of population size challenging.

The population in 20 years can be predicted from the number of births this year: Those turning 20 now were born 20 years ago. If too few people were born then, this year the nation will experience a shortage of students and workers. There will be no turning the clock back to encourage people to churn out babies for the nation.

Taiwan’s low birth rate has long been a matter of debate. The number of births fell from 247,000 in 2002 to 227,000 in 2003, hung at about the 190,000 to 200,000 mark for a while and dipped to 167,000 in 2009.

The percentage of middle-aged and elderly people increasing relative to other age groups has meant a corresponding increase in the death rate. Unless the birth rate goes up, the number of deaths per year in seven or eight years will exceed the number of births, and Taiwan’s population will start to shrink.

In 2012, I forecast that if the trends of low rates of birth, marriage and raising kids continued, the population would decline, which would hurt the property market. I was accused of propagating alarmist rhetoric.

However, we are already seeing this happening — at an accelerating rate — outside the more desirable neighborhoods.

This year, the number of births is set to be as low as 200,000. The ramifications of this will be felt in 18 years, when only 200,000 people — and presumably less than 100,000 males — will turn 18. These, minus the less able-bodied, will number from 170,000 to 180,000 in total over two years of military service.

The Ministry of National Defense says it needs 175,000 soldiers, meaning that male conscription alone will be insufficient to fill the ranks. How is the shortfall to be made up?

Only 167,000 Taiwanese — and only 83,000 males — were born in 2009. They will reach 18 in 2027. At that point, university recruitment and military conscription will hit a major crisis.

Some have suggested moving from a division of labor along gender lines; for example, from women responsible for childcare while the dangerous jobs are left for men to a kind of “gender equality” in which both men and women do military service, road maintenance, construction work and firefighting. The alternative would be spending money importing manual labor.

The math is something third graders could manage, and yet senior officials are unable or unwilling to work this out. Fully cognizant of the seriousness of the situation, ministers of education have continued to try to boost the number of universities.

Another idea is social — as opposed to military — conscription, recruiting women to look after children. People do not react too well to suggestions that everyone should spend their time and money helping raise the next generation, saying such proposals entail forcing women against their will. Remember that compulsory service has been expected of men for decades.

It is just a case of do not ask me to do anything to help; I am too busy. Or, do not ask for money, I do not have enough for myself. The government, employers and the wealthy will never run out of excuses. After all, it will no longer be their problem in 10 or 20 years.

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