Taiwan’s birth rate is declining — again

The China Post

The number of births in the first half of the year has fallen compared to the same period last year — putting 2017 on track to have the lowest birth rate since the aftermath of the 2008-2009 economic crisis, the Taiwan Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology warned on Tuesday.

The average number of births per month in 2017 has been about 15,000, meaning that the year’s total may be below 200,000, said the association’s secretary-general Huang Min-chao, according to a Central News Agency report.

To put things in perspective, the number of births has been between about 197,000 and 230,000 per year since 2010. This year represents a break in the otherwise relatively steady increase since then.

More Babies Needed

The number of babies needed to sustain the population is estimated to be between 1.6 and 2.1 per woman. 2010 was a particularly infertile year for Taiwan, which ranked last in the world with 0.9 births per woman, or 166,000 total births.

After 2010, the Taiwanese government beefed up incentives for having children, such as stipends for giving birth and child care subsidies.

But though there’s been some improvement, Taiwan still ranks 219 out of 226 countries, territories and provinces, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Birth and Superstitions

While the number of births is nowhere near as high as it was 50 or 60 years ago, there was a significant bump in births in 2012 to 1.27 births per woman.

The total number of births for 2012, the highest in the past decade, was 229,481, which then dropped to 199,113 in 2013.

What accounted for the leap in 2012? According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2012 is the Year of the Dragon, and it’s particularly auspicious.

“Hoping the son becomes a dragon” (望子成龍) is a popular Chinese idiom that describes a parent’s high hopes for their offspring.

Also according to the Zodiac system, 2010 (The Year of the Tiger) is a particularly unlucky year to give birth, providing another potential explanation for the dismal birth rate.

The Year of the Tiger is sometimes thought to be unlucky because the Chinese word for tiger (虎) somewhat sounds like the Chinese word for bitter (苦).

Looking Ahead

Many other factors could explain Taiwan’s low birth rates: Young adults marrying later, women more frequently putting off having children to pursue education and careers and Taiwan’s relatively low wages compared to child care costs.

Whatever the cause, the phenomenon could have a far-reaching negative impact on the country: With a shrinking birth rate comes an aging population and a future shortage in the workforce.

Lin Tzou-yien (林揍延), a government official who deals with the birth rate issue, said any solution would require more government resources to improve public child care facilities, raise young adults’ salaries, and provide more social housing.

In April, the number of senior citizens in Taiwan officially outnumbered the population of young children for the first time.

In May, the Health Ministry said it aimed to raise the fertility rate from 1.1 to 1.6 children per couple.

During meetings in May, the Health Ministry’s Wang Tsung-hsi (王宗曦) commented on the method of using monetary incentives to encourage birth rates, calling it only a temporary solution to the problem.

The ministry is reportedly discussing a more comprehensive approach to child care and family planning assistance.

The China Post intern Logan Sander contributed to this article.