Taiwan's sinking birth rate threatens productivity

Fri Apr 2, 2010 5:21pm EDT
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By Ralph Jennings

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan is scrambling to raise its birthrate, among the world's lowest, before the sinking number of newborns threatens productivity for its export-driven $390 billion economy.

Taiwan fears it will lack the manpower or brainpower in 10 to 15 years to keep up with industrialized Asian peers and the blooming economies of some Southeast Asian countries.

A crude birth rate of 8.3 newborns per 1,000 people last year puts Taiwan above only Germany, Hong Kong, Italy and Japan, according to estimates by the CIA World Factbook. In comparison, Vietnam has a birth rate of 17.73 and Malaysia 22.24.

"Without a young generation, there's no labor force, then you lose productivity," said Hu Chung-ying, deputy minister of the Taiwan cabinet's Council for Economic Planning and Development. "It's a very worrisome issue."

Japan, despite a rate of 7.64, has soldiered on with automation and encouraging elders, women and foreigners to work. Asian peer Singapore has used baby bonuses for nine years to raise its rate, which was estimated at 8.82 in 2009.

Taiwan's productivity would slide as retirees exceed new workers on the island of 23 million people unless citizens return en masse from abroad or more elderly seek jobs, economists say.

That would cripple Taiwan's hard-fought efforts to compete with Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, all known for industrialization and fast growth from the 1960s to the 1990s.


<p>A baby yawns inside the maternity ward of a hospital in Taipei March 31, 2010. REUTERS/Nicky Loh</p>