Mon, Nov 21, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Low birthrate a concern for nation's economic future

By Jenny Chou  /  STAFF REPORTER

With the national economic balance dependant on the strength of a young workforce, the alarmingly low birthrate in Taiwan has provoked the government's concern, with the Council for Economic Planning and Development predicting that by 2051 39 percent of the population will consist of elderly citizens.

The socio-economic reasons for the trend were tackled at a forum that was organized by the Youth Labor Alliance, a non-profit organization.

One of the lowest

According to this year's statistics from the Ministry of Interior (MOI), with a birthrate of an average 1.18 children per family, Taiwan has one of the lowest birthrates in the world. This is in comparison to MOI statistics from 2003, where Italy had a birthrate of 1.2, France 1.9 and the US 2.0.

According to Huang Tsang-ling (黃長玲), a professor in the politics department of Taiwan National University, a primary reason may be the way that class structure has shaped government policies, which may be reflected in social benefits and labor conditions.

"One shouldn't regard the problem of a low birthrate in isolation [from other factors], but should consider it in relation to the condition of the environment that children are brought up in," Huang said.

Labor conditions

According to Liu Mei-chun (劉梅君), who is a professor at the Institute for Labor Research at National Chengchi University, labor conditions in Taiwan are such that many couples do not have the economic resources or the mental energy to have children.

"With many employers taking the attitude that work is allocated on the basis of `duty,' there is a lot of overtime. Furthermore, the majority of this isn't paid for," Liu said.

According to statistics released from human resource companies in Taiwan this year, Taiwanese employees work an average of 50 hours a week, and statistics from the Council of Labor show that the average salary for a new employee is just NT$23,910 (US$710), a decrease from the average salary in 1997 of NT$24,014 (US$714).

A guest speaker surnamed Huang who worked in the restaurant business was invited to share her experiences, and spoke of how she and her colleagues worked 12-18 hour shifts every day.

"I also missed an opportunity to get married because of my work conditions. My partner at the time used to always have to wait for me for at least two hours after my shift was supposed to have finished, which put a big strain on things," she said.

Discrimination

Liu said that another factor which discouraged childbirth was discrimination in the workplace against women who get pregnant.

"Seventy percent of cases dealing with sexual discrimination in the workplace in Taipei City and Taipei County are related to the termination of women's employment upon pregnancy," Liu said.

According to Tsai Hsiao-ling (蔡曉玲), a kindergarten teacher and a member of an organization against the privatization of kindergartens, there isn't enough government support for children's education.

"With a reimbursement of NT$10,000 per year, parents still need to pay an average of NT$7,700 per month for private kindergartens. The ratio of public to private kindergartens is 3-to-7," she said.

Tsai further stated that with an increase in the privatization of kindergartens due to an emphasis on a free market, competition was high, with the result that children are treated like commodities.

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