Taiwan’s Birth Rate Sinks to Alarming Low as Pampered Pets Replace Babies
by Nicola Smith
Feb 22, 2022
…Taiwan has long lived with the terrifying prospect of invasion by neighbouring China, but one of the biggest threats to its economic security and prosperity of its society lies from within – the lowest birth rates in the world.
…As young people struggle with low wages, unaffordable house prices and work pressures that create an unfriendly environment for families, a visible sign of the reluctance to have children is the stark rise in pet ownership.
In September 2020, analysts estimated the number of domestic pets – about 3 million – had surpassed the number of children under the age of 15. The sale of pet accessories had a parallel boom, and now on the streets of Taipei, prams are often more likely carry dogs than babies.
Lin Ching Yi’s double role as a gynecologist and a member of the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament, puts her at the forefront of grappling with the demographic timebomb, and she believes the government needs to find more creative solutions than promoting family values and financial incentives for having children.
“I think we can’t reverse the situation, we can only stop it from getting worse… it’s impossible in Taiwan to have any policy to encourage women to have on average two or three children,” she told The Telegraph.
A 2019 survey of women aged 15 to 64 conducted by Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare found that 38.6% of women said they were uninterested in marriage, up from 12.4% in 2011, reported Nikkei Asia.
Ms Lin said there were deeply entrenched cultural reasons why young, educated women with good jobs were rejecting the idea of marriage and children.
These included conservative family values that placed the burden of household duties on wives and mothers, with those expectations extending to responsibility for also caring for her husband’s family.
“We still have a very traditional culture,” she said. “We have just finished our Lunar New Year, when you go to your mother-in-law’s family to serve them and all the family.”
She added: “For women, the problem is they have a better job, they have a free life if single, so they will hesitate to decide when to jump into marriage and have a much more difficult life.”
The government has been preoccupied with falling birth rates for decades and from the mid-90s found a solution in “migrant brides” from China or Southeast Asian nations including Indonesia and Malaysia, encouraging them to marry local men and start families.
The concept helped maintain the population for about 20 years but has tailed off as the economic situation of prospective brides improved in their home countries.
Ms Lin said the focus on resolving the problems of a dwindling population needed to shift away from pushing people to have more children to harnessing digital solutions to plug labour shortages and to changing mindsets towards retirement and asking older, healthy people to keep working.
“We force and ask the younger generations to do the jobs and have the children to support the country. At the same time, we have another population, the elderly, and we say we will give you welfare, we will support you, but they could still keep their jobs and take care of themselves,” she said.
Encouraging women to have children without being married could also have a positive impact, she suggested, but to do so would run against widely held conservative values that still stigmatise single mothers.