Taiwan has the lowest fertility rate in the entire world according to recent estimates. It is around 1.07 children per mother, this figure is nearly half of what would be required for population replacement, 2.1. Though Taiwan is an extreme case, this is a common theme throughout many countries around the world. So what can governments do to reverse this swing?
First of all, trends do show that “developed countries” tend to have lower birth rates in general. This to some degree may be unavoidable. This is in part due to less need of children for help in the home or in family businesses like on farms. Another factor in this is the desires of individuals to have more personal autonomy, which obviously decreases when children enter the picture.
Part of it is also capitalism. This takes many forms including mass marketing and ingrained consumerism brainwashing many into the compulsion to purchase the latest shiny object with a fruit logo on it, which again is more difficult to afford when parents must provide for their children. We can also see it manifest in housing markets. Rich individuals buy up ever expanding fiefdoms. The houses contained in these mini kingdoms are often then made so expensive that average working class people have no real chance at purchasing them. Relegating them to a life of renting or the daunting reality of a decades long mortgage that chews through most of their monthly income.
Housing prices have continued to increase year after year in Taiwan, especially when we view it in comparison to the slow trickle of raises that barely outpace inflation. Meanwhile, the rich continue to get richer. The number of millionaires has shot up, growing over 11 percent in 2015 alone. Over just a decade, from 2009 to 2019, the number of billionaires grew from 5 to 40. As this trend continues it leaves less money and wealth for the working class, and as a consequence declining ability to purchase affordable housing as well.
Housing and financial worries are two of the of the most important factors that go into many people’s decision whether or not to have children. One way to deal with this is obviously to deal with the disguising wealth inequality we are seeing all over the world. This, in part, could be mitigated by raising wages for workers significantly and ensuring these raises are tied to inflation. To deal with the housing issue there are many solutions, but one that seems perhaps the most straightforward is to tax additional homes at a high rate.
There are many ways to go about this, but the bottom-line is that if you make it unaffordable to own multiple homes, the housing market will be more more accessible to average citizens. Another way is to tax those that own incredibly opulent homes, like the proposed tax hike on homes valued over $1 million in Canada. Making sure that the working class has the ability to purchase quality, affordable housing will go a long way to assuaging their worries over having kids. Another issues that must be addressed is education.
Education is an issue near and dear to parents all around the world, this is especially true in Taiwan where it has become big business as well. Cram schools (補習班) in Taiwan are essentially profit driven after school programs where students are ostensibly sent to study certain subjects or skills. In practice they are often glorified daycare centers focused primarily on generating revenue. They are often viewed by parents as necessary in order for students to pass the various tests required to enter “good schools” and thus get a “good job” in the future. This is yet another major cost that parents must take into account when deciding whether or not to have children.
Cram school pricing can vary wildly but for simplicity’s sake costs around NT$10,000 (US$361.90) per semester. It should be remembered that these schools generally do not take time off for summer or winter vacation, which means families are often paying tuition for these schools 3 to 4 times per year, per subject, per child. This obviously can add up quite quickly.
One answer to this would be to ban for profit education in Taiwan. Short of that, as it is unlikely to happen with how ingrained these schools are and how much weight they can throw around because of their vast coffers, the government could subsidize education, including cram school education, for all students. In fact, some municipalities have begun doing just this.
We can look at Kaohsiung as an example, the city government has been holding meeting to ensure that schooling, especially for younger students, is more affordable for parents. Since 2017 the city has increased funds to subsidize over 8,700 public kindergartens and 356 additional classes. This could go a long way in helping to ensure parents can send their children to school without worrying about paying for private institutions. This of course does not go far enough though.
The government could likewise give additional vouchers for additional learning at places like cram schools, if they decide not to ban them (or nationalize them). They could also create free childcare programs that are accessible to all in Taiwan, which would also greatly reduce the costs associated with having children.
While these are not the only solutions that could help Taiwan, and countries around the globe, deal with falling fertility rates, they would be a massive first step. Likewise they would take some of the massive burden placed by largely unfettered capitalism off the backs of the working class.