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September 25, 2017

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Solving the birth rate problem will take more than money

Today, May 15, is World Family Day (國際家庭日), an opportunity to promote the importance of families, foster a fuller sharing of domestic responsibilities between spouses and equal employment opportunities between men and women.

Although Taiwan is traditionally a family-oriented society, later marriages, higher divorce rates (the highest in Asia) and lower birth rates (one of the lowest in the world) now pose a threat to the concept of family, and beyond that to the island's job market and economy; two very sound reasons to support new policy initiatives that could lead to better financial support for families.

These trends have long been prevalent in most developing countries, but in Taiwan's case, as pointed out by Dr. Hsueh Cherng-tay (薛承泰), Minister Without Portfolio, Executive Yuan, our ageing society and decreasing birthrate are of so much concern because of the speed of such changes.

Speaking at a recent event organized by the European Chamber of Commerce (歐洲商務協會), Hsueh remarked that it took Taiwan only 30 years to go from a high to low rate of population growth. Back in the early 1950s, Taiwan's fertility rate peaked at 7.04 births per woman. Today, the birthrate has declined to just 0.9 percent, making it one of the lowest in the world.

At the same time, Taiwan's society is expected to go from aging (with 7 percent of the population over 65) to aged (with 14 percent of the population over 65) in just 25 years, down from 115 years in France and 73 years in the United States.

Taiwan's demographic woes are the result of a higher number of people in Taiwan getting married at an older age, or not getting married at all. According to Hsueh, more than 40 percent of Taiwanese women aged between 30 and 35 are unmarried. A soaring number of couples won't have any children either, and the average family size has now shrunk to just three people.

Combined with Taiwan's higher standard of living, health care system, education standards and divorce rate, a growing number of young people have deferred marriage and children. Recall that Taiwan's higher education enrollment rates are among the highest in the world, with the enrollment rate for female students now significantly higher than their male counterparts.

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