Taiwan, along with South Korea, Singapore and Japan, is another East Asian nation that has had low birth rates for so long that it is facing population decline. And not just sometime in the future – Taiwan’s National Development Council (the NDC) has reported that the island’s population will start to decrease in less than a decade and perhaps within five years. 

Currently, Taiwan’s population sits at 23.55 million. Sometime between 2021 and 2025 the population will peak at 23.66 – 23.81 million and it will then start to decline. By 2061 it is estimated that the population could be as low as 17 million and the working-age working group will have declined by nearly 50%. (This cohort of Taiwanese society started declining this year, roughly at the same time as its larger neighbour across the Taiwan strait.) Also by 2061 there will be roughly half the current number of 0-14 year olds, but there will be many more elderly. Those aged 65 and older are expected to be more numerous than those aged under 15 by next year.

This ageing, declining population will place large strains on the economy and society. At the moment there are 5.6 working aged people for every elderly person; by 2061 this number will have plummeted to 1.3. How the elderly are to be cared for, let alone paid for by that time is unclear unless things change. As the NDC report states:

“Birth rate plays a pivotal role if Taiwan is to reverse the trend of an aging population. The old-age structure also does not serve in the nation’s interest and may compromise Taiwan’s competitiveness.”

Unfortunately the total fertility rate stands at around 1 child per woman. The last time the rate was at the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman was way back in the early 1980s. For two generations the Taiwanese have not been naturally replacing themselves. And now the implications of that are starting to be felt. Will this cause a change and an uptick in the birth rate? Or will Taiwan continue to follow its near neighbours into demographic ageing and decline?  

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...