Mon, Dec 25, 2017 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Cabinet working on stable child support, minister says

In the face of declining fertility rates, the government plans to expand childcare support and encourage people to have more children, as long as it is able to bear the financial cost, Minister Without Portfolio Lin Wan-i said in an interview with ‘Liberty Times’ (sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) staff reporters Jennifer Huang and Rachel Lin

By Jennifer Huang and Rachel Lin  /  Translated by staff writer Sherry Hsiao

Minister Without Portfolio Lin Wan-i speaks at an event in Taipei on Nov. 25.

Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): There were early warnings of the trend toward having fewer children. Has the government reacted too slowly?

Lin Wan-i (林萬億): Taiwan had its highest fertility rate between 1946 and 1964, during the post-war baby boom. During that time, each woman gave birth to an average of five to seven children, as the nation’s agrarian society depended on labor.

However, between 1965 and 1983, Taiwan entered the industrial age and the fertility rate dropped to between 2.1 and 3.8 children per woman. As Taiwan transitioned into a service-based economy, it further dropped to between 1.7 and 2.1 children per woman.

People who were born during the age of high fertility constituted a formidable labor force and created a demographic dividend, but in 2002 the total fertility rate dropped to 1.3 children per woman. It took less than four years for the fertility rate to drop from 1.7 children per woman to 1.3 children per woman — like going down a slide.

Ten years ago, when then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) asked me to take up the position of population policy convener, there were already plans to address decreasing childbirth and immigration. In 2002, the Gender Equality Labor Act (兩性工作平等法) established parental leave.

The total fertility rate needs to remain at more than 2.1 children per woman to maintain a balanced population structure and it needs to increase to 2.9 children per woman to drive economic development.

France encouraged childbirth very early on and the country’s subsidies do not exclude the wealthy. Its birthrate has always stayed at about 2.1 children per woman.

Under Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “three arrows” approach, Japan’s birth rate has also gradually returned to 1.8 children per woman, from 1.4 children per woman before the policy.

In 2000, Germany’s total fertility rate dropped to 1.3 children per woman. It only gradually increased after the German government raised parenting subsidies across the board, expanded public childcare and increased parental leave.

LT: Cities and counties are competing to raise childbirth subsidies and all sorts of other subsidies. Have their attempts to raise the fertility rate been effective?

Lin: To increase the fertility rate, most countries would adopt cash payments — childbirth, parenting, childcare and other subsidies, childcare support — childcare, early childhood education and others, parental leave including maternity leave and others, and social benefits — friendly workplace environments, priority in social housing and others.

The Executive Yuan is consolidating subsidies for children aged up to five in different localities, but while birth rates in counties and cities grow and decline, the total fertility rate has still not increased. There are probably some “welfare migrants,” who move to neighboring cities or counties with higher subsidies to give birth and live there, but the overall effect is limited.

Internationally, long-term and stable parenting subsidies or childcare support are more important, and these are also more effective in terms of raising the fertility rate.

On top of that, countries provide parental leave options, workplace flexibility and childcare support, and some even provide public housing priority and other benefits — France has in fact maintained a higher birth rate for these reasons.

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