Tue, Aug 07, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Birth subsidy plan makes no sense

By Emilio Venezian

According to an article on using subsidies to boost the nation’s birthrate, “the government aims to raise the nation’s total fertility rate to 1.4 per 1,000 people by 2030, or 230,000 newborns a year, by offering childcare subsidies,” (“Subsidies taking aim at birthrate decline: minister,” Aug. 3, page 3). That is a puzzle in itself:

Taiwan has a population of about 23,000,000 people, so 1.4 births per 1,000 would amount to about 28,000 births. To achieve 230,000 births per year with the current population, the total fertility rate would have to be almost 10 times higher.

There are further problems. Males do not give birth. Women under the age of 18 or older than 45 very seldom give birth. That leaves women between the ages of 18 and 45 as the overwhelming majority of the childbearers.

Women who will be 18 in 2030 were born in 2012, so the number of women between the ages of 18 and 45 in 2030 can be no more than the population already known, so the range of estimates of that population will depend on estimates about changes in their mortality, not on estimates of future birth rates.

The National Development Council (NDC) gives a “low” projection of 23,294,396, a “medium” projection of 23,717,379 and a “high” projection of 23,741,977.

Based on the medium projection, a goal of 230,000 births in 2030 means that one in 16 women in the relevant age range would have to be pregnant during the year; in contrast, in 2016 there were about 200,000 births with a female population in the relevant bracket of about 4,900,000.

Going further into the future, matters become less certain because the number of females in the childbearing age range will depend on future birth rates.

Taking the NDC projections for 2060, the number of pregnancies per woman in the relevant range would be about one in every nine women and one in every 11 women.

Such an increase in the pregnancy rate could have serious consequences for the ability of young couples to maintain their standard of living, as well as for businesses having to accommodate to a significant increase in the cost of family leave.

Compared with the NDC projections, 230,000 births per year would be 2.35 times the number of births projected by the NDC; this might require a realignment in the delivery of obstetric and pediatric medical care, especially if the medical schools are planning their staffing and admissions based on existing projections.

The same problems could arise in the elementary to high-school education system: a doubling of the projected enrollment from current forecasts is not a trivial matter.

I have not found adequate historical data on the number of girls currently being born to women before they complete their families, much less about the number of girls who survive to bear their own.

This is key to the rate of natural population increase: If the number is much higher than one, the population density will increase. That too, can have serious long-term consequences.

Thus, there are many aspects of the issue that are not mentioned. If they are not addressed properly, the subsidy could create problems that are more severe than the supposed problems that they aim to solve.

Are we just going to go through a cycle analogous to the expansion of higher education at a time when the future enrollment declines were obvious to anybody who cared to look at the data?

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