by Carl Haub, senior demographer
Taiwan’s government has just announced that the country’s total fertility rate (or TFR, the average number of children a woman would bear in her lifetime if the birth rate of a particular year were to remain unchanged) in 2010 was the lowest in its history at 0.91 children per woman. It’s the lowest rate any country has ever reported in history. The announcement itself is a bit of a projection since births have been officially reported only through November 2010. The country’s TFR had declined to 1.1 in 2005 and had remained there through 2009.
The rather spectacular drop in 2010 was due to an additional reason: 2010 is the Year of the Tiger on the Chinese calendar, beginning on February 14. The Tiger year is particularly inauspicious for births since Tigers, while seen as brave, are also seen as headstrong and possibly difficult to work with. It is quite common for employers to consider the zodiac of job applicants and Tigers may be avoided so that parents have some concrete reasons to avoid having a child in Tiger years. While there has been a lot of concern over the demographic situation for some time, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has now called for measures to increase the birth rate to be raised to the “national security level.”
Births for the 12-month period ending November 2010 dropped to 169,884 from 191,310 in 2009 but there is some hope for those wishing to raise the birth rate. The Year of the Dragon is a favorable year for births and is two years after the Tiger year in the zodiac cycle. In 1998, the last Year of the Tiger, births dropped to 271,450 from 326,002 the year before. But, in 2000, the following Dragon year, births jumped back up to 305,312. A similar pattern had been seen in previous cycles. Nonetheless, the sharp decline in births, regardless of which year it might be, from the late 1990s to the present is very obvious. Another helpful sign is that the number of marriages increased in 2010 by about 20,000 over 2009, a year known as a “widow’s year.” The effect of astrological concerns, common in many other Asian countries, also extends to the more precise timing of births. For that reason, Taiwan has a rather high proportion of caesarean section births, about 30 percent.
Couples in Taiwan have avoided having children due to the high cost of living, the short supply of affordable government daycare, the very high cost of private daycare, and policies which have tended to support low-income families, not families in general. The President has ordered the responsible ministries to come up with a workable plan to support young families – and to do it by the end of this month.