Taiwan’s childcare and education subsidies are too small to boost the nation’s falling birthrate, academics said at a policy forum in Taipei on Friday.
The forum, titled “Taiwan’s negative population growth: Challenges and policy responses,” was organized by the National Policy Foundation, a think tank affiliated with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
Although childcare reform and the establishment of a dedicated policy center has increased the nation’s birthrate from a low of 0.9 children per family in 2010 to about 1.1 in the past few years, the nation still reported negative population growth for the first time last year, former KMT lawmaker Arthur Chen (陳宜民) said.
National Taiwan University (NTU) associate professor of economics Hsin Ping-lung (辛炳隆) said that people give up on having children out of a lack of desire or means, and government policies should target the latter.
“Taiwan’s subsidies for childcare are miniscule. No couple is going to have children because they have a few extra thousand [New Taiwan] dollars per month,” he said.
The government should consider more decisive policies, such as full subsidies for raising children younger than six and education subsidies for students aged 15 and younger, he said.
These were policies touted by Hon Hai Precision Industry founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) and former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, Hsin said, adding that “resources must be spent to solve problems.”
Population decline would reduce the labor pool and make it more difficult for the government to raise revenue, especially when an aging population drives up welfare spending, he said.
“The nation has a severe labor shortage and about 1 million citizens are employed abroad, which means they are likely to raise families outside of the country,” he said. “The government needs to take stronger action to boost the birthrate.”
Former minister without portfolio James Hsueh (薛承泰), who is a sociology professor at NTU, said that economic factors are partly to blame.
That young people work long hours and have little savings would make them less inclined or able to have children, he said.
The higher number of births recorded this month and last month suggest that relaxation during the holidays could be linked to the birthrate, he said.
While economic factors such as housing prices and quality of living play important roles, they alone are not sufficient to encourage people to have children, Hsueh said, adding that the nation must accept societal and lifestyle changes to increase the birthrate.
“The leader of the nation has to convey an attitude that supports raising children,” he said.
Taiwan has 3.2 million people aged 25 to 34, and only 800,000 of them are married, he said.
“Society needs to set a trend for families and marriages,” he added.
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