This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Explaining Low Fertility in Taiwan

Few countries on earth have fertility levels as low as Taiwan (TFR of 1.06), although several Pacific Asian neighbors (especially China, Japan, and Korea) are also way down there. A very nice paper just published by Stuart Basten and Georgia Verropoulou in PLOS ONE helps to explain the phenomenon, while simultaneously throwing cold water on any idea that fertility might rise any time soon. The introduction to the paper is an especially good review of the literature on low fertility and the paper is worth a read on that account alone. In particular, what we see in Taiwan is a country that has empowered women to become educated and have a career and choose the number of children that they are having. The culture does not empower women to be equal to men at home (and probably not in many other sectors, as well), and so the domestic demands on women who marry and have one or more children are enormous. Under similar circumstances, most of would make the same decision as do women in Taiwan to avoid or delay marriage and, within, marriage, to limit the number of children we were having. These very same phenomena are at work in low fertility countries in East Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe.

Now, why don't Basten and Verropoulou expect fertility to be going up? Because recent surveys have asked Taiwanese women how many children they intend to have, as opposed to their ideal family size. Ideal family size has remained fairly constant at around two children. But, when women with one child already were asked if they intended to have another one, most said no. Sadly, the ones more likely to say they intended to have another child were those whose first child was a girl. Thus, son preference is clearly influencing fertility. Even though the effect of son preference on fertility is "positive" in a statistical sense, the reality is that fertility in all of these low fertility countries would almost certainly be higher if women were given overall societal equality to men. Could that happen? The survey data offer a glimmer of hope that younger Taiwanese men may lean in that direction.

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