On Nov. 14, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) commented on the nation’s low birthrate, claiming that young people would surely have children if only they married first, and that the low marriage rate among young people is the cause of the rapid aging of Taiwan’s society. The Taipei City Government therefore proposed to offer subsidies to couples willing to marry.
Ko’s comment stirred up a great deal of protest. As a sociology student, I would like to remind the mayor that his remarks not only decontextualized the population aging issue, but also oversimplified the low birthrate problem.
First, a look at systemic factors shows that the government often treats women’s responsibility for raising children as a public good and excludes it from the social welfare system. Take the national pension system as an example: It often emphasizes working outside the home over domestic labor and its social and economic contributions.
In other words, the social welfare system is by design restricted to individual work performance while taking for granted the domestic labor that sustains the generations at work. For those who give up their jobs to raise children, the system is unfair.
In past agricultural societies, families without children could face economic and care risks as family members aged. However, the national pension program has almost replaced the concept of parents raising children as insurance for their later years, because the program has largely reduced the economic risks for couples without children.
As people become increasingly aware of gender issues, many educated women appear to favor this situation, as they start to move away from the gender stereotypes of traditional societies that dictate that women should stay at home and raise children. Many women no longer look at producing offspring as an obligation and are instead seeking self-realization.
Influenced by these factors, it is clearly a beneficial alternative for a rational person to choose not to have children, and instead start working to pursue economic security.
Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why many young people choose not to marry or to marry without having children, and the reason for this is the imbalance of the burden between families with kids and families without kids.
The real solution to the aging society problem is for the government to take the initiative to reconstruct the relationship-based childcare system and make it a collective responsibility and obligation.
The authorities should also institutionalize childcare and make it a public service, thus overturning the childcare imbalances between the sexes to reverse the low birthrate and address the population aging issue from the root.
While Ko attempts to solve the low birthrate issue by encouraging young people to marry, he clearly does not touch on the core of the problem and arrogantly overlooks the environmental factors that are integral to this social issue.
As a potential candidate in the 2024 presidential election, if Ko does not even have the most basic understanding of the issue, he should know his place and quit politics when his current term ends to avoid bringing disaster to the nation and its people.
Su Chun-yu is a student in National Sun Yat-sen University’s Department of Sociology.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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