The nation’s population is forecast to peak at 23.65 million in 2021 before it begins to shrink to 23 million in 2033 and 20.55 million in 2047, a Ministry of the Interior report said.
The projected decline in population is the result of late marriages and low birth rates, which have contributed to the climbing average age, the ministry’s Household Registration Department said.
Household registration statistics showed that the number of people in the nation who are older than 65 has risen 2.99 percentage points from 10.21 percent in 2007 to 13.2 percent last year.
In 2021, older people are forecast to account for 16.8 percent of the total population, increasing to 30.4 percent, or 6.8 million people, in 2041 — double the current number, the department said.
In July, the nation’s working population — people who are aged between 15 and 64 — was 17.2 million with a dependency ratio — the number of dependents per 100 working-age individuals — of 36.57 percent, it said.
The working population is projected to fall to 15.67 million in a decade and to 13 million in two decades, with the dependency ratio rising to 61 percent, it added.
There are 3.12 million children aged 14 and younger in the nation, or 13.22 percent of the total population, less than last year’s 13.35 percent, the department said, adding that the figure has declined 4.21 percent over the past decade.
The nation’s female population of 11.83 million outnumbers the male population of 11.71 million, a result of a higher mortality rate and shorter life expectancy for men, as well as the inflow of foreign brides, the department said, adding that by 2033, women will outnumber men by 500,000.
The population’s projected decline and aging will have economic implications and place greater burdens on the working population, it said.
“Demographers sounded the alarm on Taiwan’s aging population three decades ago, but our pleas fell on the deaf ears of the government and the public,” National Sun Yat-sen University professor of sociology Yang Ching-li (楊靜利) said.
The nation’s fertility rate — the average number of children born per woman — is 1.2, but maintaining the population at its current level would require a fertility rate of 2.1, said Yang, a former president of the Taiwan Population Studies Association.
A fertility rate of more than 2 is required to keep a population stable, because there must be as many offspring as there are parents after account for child mortality, she said.
“The simplest solution is to encourage nativity intensively. Another alternative is to encourage immigration, because immigrants tend to be young and fertile, and some might immigrate with family members,” Yang said.
Countries such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have instituted pro-immigration policies to mitigate population aging, and they have been successful in avoiding a demographic crisis like Taiwan’s, she said.
Northern European countries with low immigration encourage childbirth through social welfare programs, Yang said.
This is helped by a general social acceptance of children born out of wedlock, similar to southern European countries, she said.
More than half of all childbirths in northern Europe occur out of wedlock, while southern European births that occur out of wedlock account for 1.3 points of the regional fertility rate, she added.
Both northern and southern Europe have halted their population decline, and in some cases reversed it, Yang said, adding that Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Singapore all have extraordinarily low fertility rates.
Young Taiwanese are not inherently averse to marriage, but low wages and gender inequality at home — as women are expected to hold jobs and raise children — are significant contributors to the nation’s falling fertility rate, she said.
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