Taiwan’s population has declined for the first time in 2020, sending a worrying message about the government’s policy to encourage fertility and support families with children.

By the end of 2020, Taiwan’s population had dropped by 0.18% from 2019, at 23,561,236, according to statistics published by the Department of Household Registration.

Census data also reveals the country had a record low 165,259 births, down by 7.04% from the previous year. The number of deaths fell by 1.78% to 173,156 deaths, but still surpassed the number of births by 7,907.

Taiwan’s fertility rate has been one of the lowest for the past few years, at 1.218 children per woman in 2019, according to a recent report by the World Population Review.

In August 2020, the National Development Council (NDC), the policy-planning agency of the Executive Yuan, had projected that Taiwan will see population decline that year.

With the birth rate dropping and the population aging, the agency also said the country will become a super-aged society by 2025, indicating that one in five citizens will be above the age of 65.

In response to the shrinking population, Taiwan’s government has been subsidizing parents with newborn babies to assist with the cost of child rearing. Subsidies increase with the number of children.

In November, Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je proposed to subsidize marriage, attributing the cause of the falling birth rate to the rising population of unmarried youth.

The latest statistics show that in 2020, Taiwan has seen one of its lowest numbers of marriages registered in 48 years, second only to that of 2009.

Deputy mayor of Taipei Tsai Ping-kun told the Apple Daily that the city government has been drafting a plan to encourage marriage, including a bonus for married couples. It also plans to hold matchmaking activities and pre-marriage education courses.

But married couples do not always have children. Cheng Yun-peng, a DPP legislator, said it is prejudicial to imply that couples have kids only after getting married. “There are many reasons not to marry, and more reasons to have children outside marriage.”

Lin Ying-meng, an independent councilor in the Taipei City Council, said a causal relation between marriage rate and birth rate does not exist. Taiwan’s marriage rate is higher than that of both Japan and South Korea, but its birth rate is the lowest of all, she added.

In 2018, the Ministry of Health and Welfare published a report revealing that Taiwanese women are more willing to raise children than they were eight years ago, despite becoming increasingly hesitant about marriage.

Wang Pei-ling, a professor studying social policies at Jinan University at Nantou, believes the finding proves that the cause of falling birthrates is not young people’s unwillingness to have kids, but the unfriendliness of the child-rearing environment.

“Women might be willing to become mothers, but they can still end up not having children after considering their economic situation, the child-rearing environment, and work conditions,” Wang said.

Li Mao-sheng, the director of Lee Women's Hospital in Taichung, said Taiwan should promote in-vitro fertilization as Japan does, citing that one in 15 babies in Japan were born via IVF in 2018, the highest number ever recorded. Taiwan, by comparison, saw one in 18 born via the method in the same year.

However, the decline in birth rate is not the only reason why Taiwan’s overall population shrank. The country also saw a negative net migration last year.

Michael Fahey, Taiwan-based legal consultant and advocate for immigration law reform, has cited Taiwan’s demographic decline as a key reason for Taiwan’s liberalizing immigration reforms. “Taiwan’s failure to increase birth rates makes immigration an increasingly important component of Taiwan’s response to its demographic crisis,” he wrote.

The declining birthrate is also a main component of the case he made for equitable access to dual citizenship for foreign residents in Taiwan.

The NDC in December proposed easing restrictions on immigrants from Hong Kong that would apply to all foreign professionals.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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