Mon, Jul 02, 2012 - Page 3 News List

Data on older mothers triggers policy debate

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter

While the national birthrate has been on the rise since last year, the age when women give birth to their first child is now 3.2 years older than 10 years ago, triggering a debate on whether the phenomenon was caused by the combination of economic recession and unfavorable welfare policies, or by an increase in women’s freedom of choice.

Figures released by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting, and Statistics showed the age when women have their first child has been delayed by 3.2 years compared with that in 2001.

The average age of a woman at her first childbirth in 2001 was 26.7, while the figure last year was 29.9, statistics showed.

Dividing the age of first pregnancy into different groups, 14.3 percent less women had their first child between the ages of 20 to 24 last year compared with 2001, and the figure drops by 16.1 percent for women between the ages of 25 to 29.

Meanwhile, 14.8 percent more women first gave birth when 30 to 34 years old, and 7.6 percent more aged 35 and 39.

“I think one of the reasons that led to the phenomenon is that the economic recession makes young people think that it’s too much a burden for them to get married or have children,” sociology professor Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華) said. “A lot of young people want to wait until they save enough money before getting married or having children.”

Ku also believed that as more women are becoming increasingly independent and spending more time at work, the lack of a reliable childcare system may make them hesitate to have children.

“For those women who are working, it becomes difficult for them to work and look after their children at the same time because there is not enough welfare support, such as a reliable childcare system or paid nursing leaves,” he said.

Ku said such an issue had also occurred in Europe, but is now improving in many countries.

“In this country, having children is considered the woman’s or the couple’s private business, but in north European countries, it’s considered the business of the entire society,” he said. “That’s the difference in mentality.”

Child Welfare Bureau director-general Chang Hsiu-yuan (張秀鴛) thinks the phenomenon was a result of women’s free choice.

“More women are pursuing higher education nowadays, they finish school later, so they get married later, and of course they have their first childbirth later,” she said. “If a woman goes to graduate school after graduating from college, gets married when she’s 30, and you suppose she needs a year to adjust her pace of life, it’s reasonable that she gives birth to her first child at 32.”

“This is the contemporary woman’s freedom of choice, it’s their right,” she added.

Director of the Ministry of the Interior’s Department of Social Affairs Chien Hui-chuan (簡慧娟) said it is a complicated issue with many different causes.

“Yes, the social environment is a cause, women’s freedome of choice is a cause, and there are many other causes,” she said. “The government as a whole has noticed the issue, and it’s not something that a single ministry can solve — we’re now working with other government institutions trying to figure out a solution, but we’ve not found one so far.”

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