June 15, 2010 Leave a comment
“What do you think of the declining growth of Taiwan?” is the question I asked a select group of people. Beyond having no major concern, I hear comments like “A declining population rate is the norm in advanced societies.” and “Why would people want to have a child in todays society?”. What if I told you that, at the current rate Taiwan would slip from over 23 million people to just barely 21 million in the next 10 years? What if I told investors that in 20 years there would be an unavoidable GDP loss of NT$1603244606976 (US$50,101,393,968) for no other reason than a reduction in the workforce (Assuming the annual average GDP US$16,392 per capita in Taiwan as listed by the 2009 International Monetary Fund)? What if I told contractors that they should stop expanding the housing market, but rather only rebuild 2 in 3 decrepit houses? What if I told you that the only reason that the birthrates are this high is because 1 in 8 babies in Taiwan are born to a non-Taiwanese mother? What if I told you that in 40-50 years, it will be impossible for Taiwan to cover the cost of their older generation? But this question is about much more than money.
Where does this problem stem from? Unfortunately with the resources that I have at hand I can only make assumptions based on educated guesses. But at the root of any growth rate problem is an issue with relationships and decisions to have children. So lets take a quick look at some of the reasons why there would be less children based on existing relationships today. Well, tolerance and acceptance for same gender relationships would be an immediate response. Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal and Iceland all accept same sex marriages (I am not saying Taiwan accepts this, but I am saying it is becoming more tolerant). Well all of these countries have lower birthrates, but no severe shifts after accepting same sex marriages, so that probably isn’t a major reason. There is an interesting article written by Time Magazine that very superficially covers this issue. They go on to suggest that selfishness is one of the core reasons. They have an interesting survey (of only 100 people) in Taiwan between the ages of 20 and 40 about their family plans. One-third didn’t plan to have any children for fear of losing two precious things: money and freedom. I do not think its that simple, and even if selfishness were the core reason what are the drivers for this selfishness?
Here are some of the obstacles I see in relationships in Taiwan. Lets take a quick look at what I call the ‘da jia’ mentality. There is a concept foreign to western cultures that all people are part of a big family. The saying in Chinese ‘da jia ni how’ is equivalent to Hello Everyone, but the literal meaning is big family you how. Any foreigner who lives in a Taiwanese family will be able to verify that there is no sense of privacy, nothing is sacred or private. I like to think of this as a holdover from a more socially tolerant society where members of a village shared food, shelter clothing etc. in order to survive in times of poverty. If you look at Taiwanese and Chinese times of poverty, and there are a lot of examples, you will find this generally true. Even further, today I like to visit small isolated villages in southern Taiwan. Where this mentality is still partially visible. In reality, the open and friendly ‘da jia’ mentality is all but dead in anything other than its reference to social politeness and historical understanding of the term. Lets evaluate the dating scene in Taiwan. An unofficial uncounted poll of mine has lead me to believe that the primary ways men and women meet up are by; work or school acquaintances, the internet or friends of friends. Meeting someone at the bookstore, or in the MRT are very rare examples. But in general it is socially unacceptable to try to meet people on the move (i.e. while commuting, while at a store, while with family and while with friends). Severely limiting the places and ways that it is acceptable to meet people. Now, lets take a quick look at the parent approval process in Taiwan. Taiwanese in many cases live with their parents for a good portion of their life. It is typical to live with their parents until they are well into their 30’s, and many will care for their parents when they get older. Things like sex are taboo (to the parents) without marriage, and the introduction between a partner and the parents typically does not occur until marriage is proposed. Forcing most relationships into the closet. Many Taiwanese, unless they can financially afford to move out of their parents house and have some financial stability, put off the decision to have a baby until their 30 something marriage. So having a baby at 32, does not leave much time for the decision to have another.
In summary, I would suggest that the loss of an extroverted nature in practice and in culture makes meeting the right person very challenging. Coupled with the facts that romantic relationships are heavily strained by the family and financial burdens for housing are high typically place generally acceptable ages for children into the twilight of child bearing years. This places an additional burden on society considering that this late birthing entry brings heightened chances for genetic defects. Ultimately these generally accepted facts bring about what I call the Social Holocaust of Taiwan. Unless a major shift in this philosophy occurs, a financial devastation of profound magnitude will occur in my lifetime. However, it must be noted that bringing Taiwan back to such levels of poverty may increase the birthrates once again.