- Title: TAIWAN: Government aims to pull Taiwan out of its baby blues
- Date: 4th April 2010
- Summary: TAIPEI, TAIWAN (RECENT) (REUTERS) THE LANDMARK TAIPEI 101 BUILDING A MOCK STATUE OF LIBERTY IN TAIPEI CITY THE TOP OF TAIPEI 101 BUILDING PEOPLE WALKING IN TAIPEI CITY CENTER DISTRICT PEOPLE WALKING
- Embargoed: 19th April 2010 13:00
- Topics: Health,Population
- Reuters ID: LVA5UHJA28YCBLU0ARAO61V0DGDE
- Story Text: Taiwan's birthrate, among the world's lowest, will threaten productivity in 10 to 15 years as the workforce dwindles, reducing the tech-reliant island's competitiveness against other emerging Asian economies.
Taiwan is scrambling to raise its birthrate, which is among the world's lowest, before the sinking number of newborns threatens productivity for the island's export-driven $390 billion economy.
Taiwan fears it will lack the manpower or brainpower in 10 to 15 years to keep up with industrialised Asian peers and the blooming economies of some Southeast Asian countries.
Taiwan's birth rate has sunk steadily since the 1950s to an average of 1.05 children per woman last year, below the ideal replacement rate of 2.1, according to government statistics.
Analyst said that Taiwanese are shunning births in favour their careers, which often delays marriage or scraps the idea altogether, and to save child-rearing expenses that include baby-sitters and education from kindergarten through university years.
Married last year, 38-year-old Chen Mei-lan and her husband Chang hung-chin, both in the Information Technology industries, had just welcomed their first daughter two weeks ago.
"It's a great endeavor to raise a child, because we want them to grow up healthily and happily. But there are many problems in our society, sometimes those problems can hold us back a little bit," said Chen.
Housing prices are spiraling in parts of Taiwan while wages are stagnant, adding financial pressure to middle-class couples.
But for the couples who do not have financial worries, many still choose the freedom of a marriage without any child. Government subsidies or the change of economy may not easily change their minds.
"The main reason was that we want more time spent for each other and we don't want the burden of children. We thought once we have children, our lives will shift focus onto the children, but we want more freedom in our lives," said 36-year-old Joanne Liang, who has been married for 8 years.
If the current trend accelerates, productivity will slide as retirees exceed new workers on the island of 23 million people unless Taiwan sees a mass return of citizens overseas or more elderly job seekers, economists says.
That would cripple export-reliant Taiwan's hard-fought efforts to compete with fellow "Asian tigers" Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, all known for industrialisation and fast growth from the 1960s to the 1990s.
A crude birth rate of 8.3 newborns per 1,000 people last year puts Taiwan above only Germany, Hong Kong, Italy and Japan, according to estimates by the CIA World Factbook. In comparison, Vietnam has a birth rate of 17.73 and Malaysia 22.24.
"As the population decreases, the consumer power also declines; the lack of consumption will lead to the lack of domestic demand, this would be unfavorable to businesses that depend on domestic demands. On the other hand, when the population decreases, the labor force also decreases, and the lack of labor supply will force industries to change its current format," said Lin Wan-i, a Social Work professor at the National Taiwan University.
Taiwan officials can choose from a number of measures, analysts say, drawing on examples in Europe, Australia and elsewhere in Asia. Choices include more time off, better child care access, direct government financial aid and offers of above-market wages to keep elderly people on the payroll.
"From providing financial subsidies, to supporting daycare and the education system, ensuring the safety of communities, and even providing affordable housings -- all these measures need to take place one after another, and no single one of them is sufficient to boost the birth rate by itself," said Lin.
Cities and counties in Taiwan will come up with subsidy packages for families with newborns, while the parliament considers a tax break plan, said Taiwan's Economic Planning officials. Scholarships are also in the works, and more employers are providing nursing rooms for workers.
The government is also studying a plan to offer parents T$5,000 a month for each child's first three years, media said.
The interior ministry expects its 2010 budget to cover the so far unknown cost of encouraging child births. If it needed more, Taiwan could set up a special budget or reallocate resources, said Tony Phoo, an economist at Standard Chartered in Taipei.
In the longer term, Taiwan may allow more migrant labour, supplementing a foreign workforce of about 300,000, mostly from Southeast Asia, he said.
But first, a T$1 million reward will go to whoever submits the best pro-baby slogan.
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