Sunday, November 9, 2014
Taiwan's Low Birth Rate Is No Easy Fix
A neat article from the Guardian on Taiwan offering direct payments to boost its birth rate. Direct payments have been tried before in several other places and its effect has been marginal at best. Alarmingly low birth rates are a problem much deeper than just income and money. Religious conservatives try to spin it to "abandoning the traditional family," but that's not really true either. Countries which inflexibly cling to old values about work and family: Japan, Germany and Korea, have some of the most stubbornly low birth rates in the world. So that's not it.
Developed countries with high birth rates have 1) reasonable housing and 2) flexible work arrangements. Developed countries which don't have that, for whatever reason, will have lower birth rates.
Taiwan fails on both counts. Home ownership in Taiwan is shockingly expensive, not least because most good jobs are centered in Taipei. Imagine if, in America, you had to move to the New York metropolitan area to get a decent job? How many of us would be able to afford starting a family? Not many.
Work culture in Taiwan is nothing short of atrocious. Employees have no real rights. They often work twelve hour days, not because they're actually needed for twelve hours, but because there's this sick culture of "If you aren't suffering, you aren't a good worker." Six day weeks and unpaid overtime are the norm in Taiwan.
When I worked in Taiwan (in several places, mind you) I would clock out as soon as my work was done. I soon learned that this was a big no-no. My boss "encouraged" me to "stay with my fellow employees" until the hours they left.
So let me ask you: If you're a woman, you're working 10-12 hour days, six days a week, you're constantly stressed out and to top it off you can't in your wildest dreams ever afford a home... Are you going to have kids? And would a direct payment of about $1,000 sway you? Probably not.