Stuart Gietel-Basten says policy-makers have often placed too much emphasis on boosting the number of babies to offset aging and population decline, when the focus should be on sustaining the existing population.
“The policy has generally been approached in a very linear way — low fertility is ‘demographically and economically bad,’ so lets ‘fix it,’” he tells the Taipei Times. “Having more babies is actually a very poor way to offset population aging. They take 20 years to get into the labor force.”
Instead, Gietel-Basten argues, the focus should be on keeping people healthy for longer, reforming social security systems and having sensible aging policies.
Photo courtesy of the Lung Yingtai Cultural Foundation
“Taiwan is pretty well placed to do many of these things — and the National Development Council is making good plans to deliver on these,” he says.
Gietel-Basten, an academic at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, will give a lecture, No Babies — What Went Wrong? The ‘Population Problem’ in Taiwan and the Asia Pacific, in Taipei on May 26. The author of Why Demography Matters and The ‘population problem’ in Pacific Asia will discuss the systemic changes that are necessary for the development of a more sustainable population.
The lecture, part of the Lung Yingtai Cultural Foundation’s Taipei Salon series of talks, will be moderated by Helen Liu (劉康慧), a political scientist at National Taiwan University.
Government statistics show that Taiwan’s fertility rate last year was 1.06 children per woman, one of the lowest in the world and a rate the National Development Council wants to increase to 1.4 by 2030.
Taiwan’s birth rate is below the rate needed to sustain population growth, which hinges on increased longevity.
Government statistics show that the nation has a population of about 23.8 million, the 56th-largest in the world, and forecasts that the figure would peak at 24.15 million in a decade, before starting to decline.
Regardless if the government reaches its fertility target, Gietel-Basten is optimistic about the nation’s future because it is “getting better educated, healthier, richer, more able to retrain and work flexibly.”
He adds that Taiwan is also in an ideal position to harness the power of technology to help offset population declines and other scarcities, and societal attitudes towards migration are also slowly changing to allow skills gaps in the labor force to be met.
So, if putting resources towards only boosting fertility isn’t the panacea it would seem to be, should fertility be forgotten altogether?
DON’T BLAME THE YOUNG
Gietel-Basten says that in the Taiwan context rapid aging and population decline are “pretty extreme,” and that a slightly higher fertility rate would indeed slow this trend. But there is a fundamentally larger issue that has to be addressed: Why is fertility so low?
On a superficial level, Gietel-Basten says the young generation is blamed for not having babies.
“This is framed in a very negative way — about being selfish, or listless or lazy,” he says.
He adds that the evidence shows that people do in fact want to have at least two children and get into a long-term relationship.
“But they feel they are not able to do so. This way, we think about not being able to meet their own aspirations, rather than being lazy or selfish,” he says.
Gietel-Basten cites a litany of examples as to why Taiwanese feel they are unable to raise a family: costs of children, especially education and cram schools, impact on career and stagnant wages. Therefore, fertility, rather than a problem to be fixed in itself, requires the public and private sector, as well as families, to work together to “holistically” resolve a number of interconnected issues.
“Men and mothers-in-law, for example, will have to change their attitudes. Even if fertility doesn’t rise — but I think it will — it will be a decent set of policies to make people happier,” he says.
What: No Babies — What Went Wrong? The ‘Population Problem’ in Taiwan and the Asia Pacific
When: May 26 from 2pm to 3:30pm
Where: Taiwan Academy of Banking and Finance (台灣金融研訓院), 2F, 62 Roosevelt Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路三段62號2樓)
Details: The lecture will be conducted in English. Admission is free, but those attending must pre-register online at www.civictaipei.org
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