By Peng Tso-kwei
The total fertility rate in Taiwan is
decreasing annually, and on average the number of women planning to give birth
to less than two babies during her reproductive years is rapidly on the rise.
Compared with other countries, this is lower than expected. The Department of
Health plans to spend more than NT$84 million on health education to encourage
women of child-bearing age to have more babies.
According to a survey, the "five no's policy" ? no marriage, no birth, no
nurturing, no life, and no prospects ? has become new
generation's values. If such socially problematic values aren't reversed, the
number of single people will increase greatly, and there will be more and more
unmarried people and widows and widowers in Taiwan's
society. Those who are married, meanwhile, are likely to be "DINKs," which stands for dual income no kids. In other
words, as the economy grows, average income increases, and women's
participation in the labor market rises, the traditional belief that it is a
"social responsibility" to get married and have children is replaced
Economics is the study of selecting the optimal objective
from limited resources. Therefore, from an economic perspective, the following
three conditions must be met to observe fertility behavior:
1. Objective: a child must give parents a sense of
2. Method: parents have choices regarding whether to have a
child and the number of children in their family.
3. Limited resources: bearing and raising a child take a
substantial amount of resources.
A child can provide parents with a sense of satisfaction in
at least one of the following three ways. First, the love that a child gives
directly satisfies parents. As well, a child is himself or herself an asset;
for example, he or she can help parents manage a family business, cultivate
agriculture land, etc. Therefore, income, productivity and service carried out
by children indirectly satisfies parents. Lastly, a
child serves as a social, spiritual and economic assurance to aging parents,
and thus indirectly makes parents feel satisfied.
The second condition is whether a couple can choose to have
a child, the number of children to have and when to reproduce. In the past,
some tactics used to control a couple's fertility selection rights included
infanticide and abortion. Now, there are more advanced and easy contraceptive
methods on the market. Moreover, modern medicine also gives infertile couples a
greater possibility of conceiving a child. Therefore, knowledge and application
of contraception are regarded as important factors in fertility decision
making. Such decisions are influenced by the type and quantity of work that
people in different age groups perform in the market place. Also, a child's
individual characteristics can also affect parents' decisions on future
fertility and the number of children they will have.
Regarding limited resources, bearing and raising a child
requires parents to expend large amounts of time and money. According to a
consumer spending survey, the total cost to raise a male child to his 22nd
birthday for a dual income family is about 21 percent of total income. This is
high compared to 13.5 percent of total income spent on transportation, 7
percent on healthcare, and 4.2 percent on clothes. According to US research,
well-educated women expect to spend 487.1 hours per year to care for a child
from age zero to 2.9, and 364.9 hours for a child from age three to 4.9. If
calculating this based on a businesswoman's wage, the "time cost" (時間價值)
to take care of a child is quite high.
According to survey data in Taiwan,
an increase in family income and fall in the number of children born may seem
to indicate that children are seen as a low value commodity.
In fact, when family income increases, parental demands and
investment in their children also increase; a wealthy family emphasizes quality
rather than quantity when raising a child. Thus, even though a child is not
regarded as a low value commodity, family size decreases in relation to a
family's wealth while per child expenditures increase.
Also, as a woman's education level increases, the number of
children they will have decreases, and the difference between the number of
children they plan to have versus the actual number narrows.
The negative correlation between education level and
fertility is a result of income disparities between well-educated and
less-educated women. Furthermore, well-educated women have a better
understanding of the process of giving birth and contraception, and by applying
such knowledge the number of children they expect to have more closely matches
the actual figure, as accidental pregnancies are prevented.
Additionally, an increased infant mortality rate (IMR) can
cause fertility to rise. This is more true for older
women than younger women. An increase in the IMR doesn't cause young women's
birth rates to rise because they generally believe there is still plenty of
procreative time remaining. Good healthcare and sanitation in Taiwan
has lowered both the IMR and the birth rate.
To summarize, it should be a positive trend to see that a
decrease in Taiwan's birth rate is due to increased income and education levels, and a
decrease in the IMR. If a wealthy and well-educated couple choose to have a
baby in a more developed country because of a lack of prospects in Taiwan, and
if an increase in Taiwan's total fertility rate is led by immigrant women or
"spring-autumn romances" (老少配, couples with a
significant age difference), however, this will lead to structural problems in
society which deserve more attention.
Peng Tso-kwei is a chair professor at
Taichung Healthcare and Management