POPULATION: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Falling birth-rates stir action in Taiwan, Singapore
, September 11, 2004
Taiwan has seen a startling drop in the birth-rate. Statistics show that 20 years ago, an average woman could be expected to give birth to 2.8 children. Last year, that rate dipped to 1.2, one of the lowest rates in the world.
Research by the island's Council for Economic Planning and Development show that the island's birth-rate has slowed dramatically over the last decade and that the population is expected to hit negative growth by 2016, ending a century of population growth. Taiwan's current 23 million population will drop to 19.6 million by 2051 if nothing is done to prevent it.
Late marriages and pregnancy have had an impact on the birth-rate, with the average age of marriage for the island's women rising from 24 in 1981 to 27 last year.
Not only are women waiting to get married, many are not getting married at all. While in 1980 up to 88 per cent of all females between the age of 25 and 29 were married, by 2003 that figure had dropped to just 40 per cent. And today, almost a quarter of women aged 35 to 39 are not married.
The Taiwan Government is concerned and has commissioned its Bureau of Health Promotion to formulate policies to boost the birth rate by encouraging earlier marriage and pregnancy.
According to the bureau's director-general: "An ageing population is a common problem seen in developed countries. As part of its efforts to slow the trend, the bureau encourages women to get married before the age of 30 and conceive before the age of 35. Early marriage and pregnancy will help stop the sliding birth rate."
A Taiwan Cabinet spokesman said that the Government is willing to consider all possible ways to encourage higher birthrates, including monetary incentives and tax breaks.
The Bureau of National Health Care suggested the Government try to change traditional attitudes towards parenting in Taiwan and encourage both parents to share the responsibility of child-rearing.
The Department of Health has recommended spending NT$84 million (A$3.6 million) on advertising and promotion designed to get Taiwan's women to bear more children.
Health officials are considering the idea of using the slogan "give your child a playmate".Singapore
The "birth dearth" is also hitting Singapore, a similar society to Taiwan.
The Singapore Government is aware and concerned about the falling birth-rate, saying it aims to take a "holistic and coherent approach" that goes beyond financial measures to tackle the population challenges facing Singapore.
The declining birth-rate in Singapore reflects three key trends - increasing singlehood, later marriages and family formation, and desire for smaller families - that are common in developed countries.
Singapore is studying four main areas:
- Maternity leave. Working mothers say that the existing eight weeks of paid statutory maternity leave is inadequate for them to recover, care for and bond with their new-born babies. The Government is looking into a longer maternity period, taking into account the costs on employers.
- Work-life balance. Countries that have reversed their falling birth-rates have family-friendly practices in the workplace. The Government, in consultation with employers and employee representatives, is examining the scope for part-time and other flexible work arrangements that will allow parents to spend more time with their children. As former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong has said, "I think it is total - money of course, is helpful to many people. It is a total environment for bringing up children. You have to make it easier for parents to bring up children."
- Child care and infant care. Access to good and affordable child-care arrangements is important to parents. There is a reasonable subsidy for centre-based child care, but infant care is expensive.
- Financial support. Marriage and parenthood are ultimately personal decisions, but financial measures such as grants and tax relief help. The Singapore Government is considering how to simplify and enhance existing tax measures, such as allowing certain measures to be claimed by husbands as well as by wives, and aligning the conditions for tax rebates with child-bearing patterns. Singapore is also introducing more flexibility in the use of the Baby Bonus.
Overcoming the "birth dearth" will take more than speeches and spending money on advertising - it will need new family-friendly policies and more money for families.