According to the Ministry of the Interior, Taiwan had 115,395 births and 117,935 deaths from January to last month — 2,540 more deaths than births, or negative natural population growth — with nothing to suggest a reversal in this trend before the end of the year.
Fortunately, a positive net migration rate — an inflow of 7,402 people in the first eight months of the year — is likely to keep the nation’s population from showing a net decline this year, but everyone in Taiwan should be prepared for the economic and social repercussions of population decline.
Last year, the National Development Council estimated that the population would peak in 2021 at 23.61 million people and begin to decline in 2022, as more people marry late and choose not to have children. It forecast 178,000 deaths for this year and 181,000 births — a gain of 3,000.
However, the number of births so far this year is lower than expected and is likely to fall short of the council’s estimate, as the number of births has declined by 10,000 a year over the past three years. Experts have said that total births might even fall below 180,000 if the trend continues.
Births in Taiwan have shown a gradual downward trend over the past 10 years. The fertility rate — the number of children born per woman — was only 1.06 last year, one of the lowest in the world.
As the birth rate is below the level needed to sustain population growth — according to demographers, a fertility rate of 2.1 is needed for a population to replace itself — the nation’s natural population is likely to decline at an increased rate, as deaths continue to outnumber births. Aging of the overall population will accelerate, negatively affecting the labor pool and the economy.
For instance, a declining population — or, in particular, a shrinking labor pool — would decrease demand for housing, while fewer births would eventually increase the number of vacant homes and deal a blow to the real-estate market.
Population decline will affect consumption, investment and production, and the economy is likely to face long-term stagnation if problems remain unresolved.
The government has declared the rapidly aging population and ever-declining number of births a “national crisis,” while pledging greater support for those raising children, including creating work environments that are more friendly to pregnant women and providing preschool education and subsidy programs. The government has also promised to make the nation friendlier to immigrants and to consider raising the retirement age.
However, the government’s measures have not managed to raise the fertility rate, which the council aims to increase to 1.25 by 2022 and 1.4 by 2030.
Young adults are increasingly hesitant to marry and have children, whether for economic reasons, from a lack of confidence or numerous other factors.
Population decline will significantly affect the nation’s social and economic development, so all Taiwanese should view this demographic crisis as both a near-term issue and a long-term challenge.
Experts and civic groups should be convened to help formulate effective government policies that would enable Taiwan to accommodate the population’s changing composition while reversing negative population growth.
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