October 9: Taiwan’s Demographic Challenges and Economic and Political Implications

October 9: Taiwan’s Demographic Challenges and Economic and Political Implications

Event Description

Wednesday, October 9, 2019 from 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM

Demographic change, especially an aging society, is one of the core challenges for governance in post-industrialized countries. Taiwan’s National Development Council predicts that the island’s population will start declining as early as 2022. With an aging population and low birthrate, Taiwan will contend with numerous challenges, including a shrinking tax base, labor shortages, and recruitment shortfalls in Taiwan’s military. Taiwan’s demographic trajectory will likely impact its economic structure and productivity and also have implications for its national defense and security. What are the drivers of such demographic trends? How has the Taiwan government sought to manage a myriad of issues associated with a declining population? And how do these demographic issues influence party politics, people’s political attitudes, and even cross-strait relations?

Panelists are Tsuann Kuo from Chung Shan Medical University in Taiwan, Fang-yu Chen from Global Taiwan Institute, and Nicholas Eberstadt from the American Enterprise Institute. GTI Research Fellow I-wei Jennifer Chang will moderate the panel. Join GTI on October 9 for a discussion on Taiwan’s demographic challenges and their economic and political implications. This public seminar is part of the Civil Society and Democracy Series, which is partially funded by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.

Doors will open at 11:30 am. The event will begin at 12:00 pm. Kindly RSVP by October 7. Please, direct your questions or concerns to Program Manager Marzia Borsoi-Kelly at rsvp@globaltaiwan.org.

Reminder: All our public seminars will be live-streamed on our Facebook page at @globaltaiwaninst.

** Media: Please contact Program Manager Marzia Borsoi-Kelly at rsvp@globaltaiwan.org if you would like to bring additional crew members or equipment so that we can be sure to accommodate you.


Tsuann Kuo is an assistant professor in the Department of Medical Sociology and Social Work at Chung Shan Medical University in Taichung, Taiwan. In addition, she currently acts as the executive director of the Taichung City Dementia Integrated Center. Previously, she was the chair and assistant professor of the Department of Eldercare at the Central Taiwan University of Science and Technology in Taichung, Taiwan. She teaches gerontology, aging policies and programs, program design and evaluation for older adults, and long-term care services. Dr. Kuo had diverse practice experiences in the US prior to returning to Taiwan, including being a medical social worker at the West Los Angeles Veteran’s Hospital, a recreational specialist for the Department of Community Services at the City of Beverly Hills, a project evaluator for Center for Healthy Aging in Santa Monica. Dr. Kuo’s main research topics include productive aging, cross-cultural caregiving issues, reminiscence and life review therapy for older adults, international comparisons on long-term care policies and programs, advocacy issues for caregivers, and dementia care program and management for older adults. She currently serves as the president of Taiwan Association of Family Caregivers and Hsiang Shang Culture and Education Foundation, as well as being a board member for the Red Cross in Taichung City, Taiwan Association of Gerontology, and Yung Shin Social Welfare Foundation. Dr. Kuo also leads the “Silver Legends” project where older adults go around communities to share their life expertise and skills. Dr. Kuo received her Ph.D. and Master’s Degree in Social Welfare from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and two Master Degrees in Gerontology and Health Administration from the University of Southern California (USC).

Nicholas Eberstadt holds the Henry Wendt chair in political economy at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he researches and writes extensively on demographics and economic development generally, and more specifically on international security in the Korean peninsula and Asia. Domestically, he focuses on poverty and social well-being. Dr. Eberstadt is also a senior adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). His many books and monographs include “Poverty in China” (IDI, 1979); “The Tyranny of Numbers” (AEI Press, 1995); “The End of North Korea” (AEI Press, 1999); “The Poverty of the Poverty Rate” (AEI Press, 2008); and “Russia’s Peacetime Demographic Crisis” (NBR, 2010). His latest book is “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis” (Templeton Press, 2016). He has offered invited testimony before Congress on numerous occasions and has served as consultant or adviser for a variety of units within the US government. His appearances on radio and television range from NPR to CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” Mr. Eberstadt has a Ph.D. in political economy and government, an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government, and an A.B. from Harvard University. In addition, he holds a Master of Science from the London School of Economics. In 2012, Mr. Eberstadt was awarded the prestigious Bradley Prize.

Fang-Yu Chen is currently a visiting fellow at Global Taiwan Institute. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Michigan State University, with research interests in authoritarian politics, party politics, and political behavior in new democracies. Since 2014, Mr. Chen became the co-founder and co-editor of the website “Who Governs TW,” which aims to become a Mandarin version of the Monkey Cage, promoting public awareness and participation in politics. Also, he is in the editorial team of “US Taiwan Watch,” which reports issues related to US-Taiwan-China relations. His previous studies were published by the Political Research Quarterly and the Journal of Asian and African Studies. He has also published policy papers and op-eds on the Washington Post, the Global Taiwan BriefThe Diplomat, the National Interest, and PacNet.


I-wei Jennifer Chang is a research fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute. Prior to GTI, Ms. Chang was senior program specialist in the China Program at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), where she examined China’s role in global conflict zones spanning from the Indo-Pacific region to the Middle East and Africa. Ms. Chang joined USIP after working as a researcher at the Embassy of India in Washington, D.C., and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. She also covered Taiwanese politics and society as a reporter for The China Post in Taipei. Ms. Chang has also published widely on Chinese foreign and security policy, Asia-Middle East relations, civil wars, ethnic conflict, and religious freedom. She has written for several publications including Foreign Policy, The Jamestown Foundation’s China BriefJadaliyyaMiddle East Research and Information ProjectISLAMiCommentary, and the Middle East Institute’s Middle East-Asia Project. Ms. Chang holds two Master’s degrees in International Relations and Journalism from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. 

Event Summary

On Wednesday, October 9 GTI held a public seminar on demographic challenges and their economic and political implications. This event was part of the Civil Society and Democracy Series, which is partially funded by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. GTI Research Fellow I-wei Jennifer Chang introduced the topic by drawing attention to the one Taiwan-related statistic that is often mentioned—its population of 23 million whose voices need to be heard. However, as Chang pointed out, Taiwan’s population is expected to decline to 19 million by 2060, with the projected decline starting as early as 2022. Chang then pointed out that the decline in population could cause the people of Taiwan to have a less powerful voice when promoting its cause. As of 2018, Taiwan had a birth rate of 1.06, but it needs a birth rate of 2.1 to maintain its current population. Chang ended her remarks by bringing up two issues deriving from the lowering birth rate: 1) the economic issue connected to workforce; and 2) a national security issue due to decreasing numbers of Taiwanese people serving in the military and other national security positions. 

Panelist Tsuann Kuo touched on the implications of an ageing society in Taiwan. When comparing Taiwan’s demographics to other countries, Kuo pointed out that Taiwan is the fastest ageing country in Asia and that its life expectancy is similar to that of the United States, as well as the leading causes of death. Kuo showed statistics that demonstrated that in Taiwan people aged 65 and above currently represent 14 percent of the total population with the proportion expected to rise to 20 percent in eight years. The number of centenarians grew almost 10-fold in the last 15 years. This ageing population has three major ways of impacting Taiwan: 1) a large number of people is retiring; 2) there is a large number of elderly people in communities and opportunities for active aging are increasing; and 3) there is an increase in the number of people in need of elderly care.

Kuo highlighted current initiatives in Taiwan that cater to the ageing population, such as activities encouraging social engagement and frailty prevention. According to Kuo’s recent research, Taiwan spends 25 percent of its GDP on social programs, which is a very high number for a capitalist society. Kuo then lauded Taiwan’s exceptionally good healthcare system and pointed out that 6.6 percent of Taiwan’s GDP is spent on healthcare. For long-term health care services, 84 percent of the expenses are subsidised by the government and there are 17 categories of major services of long-term care that the government recognizes. 

Kuo then pointed to another demographic question: how labour healthy are the Taiwanese? Citing that 30,000 Taiwanese quit their jobs every year to take care of their families, Kuo explained that an ageing population creates higher demand for human resources and requires more infrastructure that can provide the needs of people’s economic security, residential options, health, and long-term care. The percentage of women who work in Asia is the highest in Taiwan and there is pressure on those who work on choosing whether to continue to work or to raise children. Kuo believes that the government needs to have an official policy for child-care and caregiving leave and raise awareness that employers have to take care of employees and create more employee-friendly schemes for family care (such as adult care and childcare at work and having flexible working hours).

GTI Visiting Fellow Fang-Yu Chen asserted that the demographic problems in Taiwan are caused by the so-called high-income trap. This phenomenon is heightened by low birth rates and conservative social attitudes towards taking care of children and elderly which is considered a women’s responsibility. He also noted that people tend to get married later due to longer working hours and low work wages. Chen pointed to the bureaucratic limits that exist in the Taiwanese society due to the lack of a central agency that would target demographic change issues and the irony that the government introduced many subsidies for private, not public care services. He also emphasized the lack of systematic policies that address the issue of longer working hours and subsidies for public infrastructure. Chen ended his remarks with the thought that demographic changes are slow and that there are no politicians willing to tackle the issue at hand.

Nicholas Eberstadt with the American Enterprise Institute spoke about the demographics of Japan, South Korea, and China—and about how Taiwan can learn from the initiatives implemented in these three countries. Eberstadt began his discussion by pointing to similarities between all four countries: the low fertility rates, the ineffectiveness of pro-natal policies in helping improve demographics (as there is little a government can do to change people’s mindsets about the desired number of children and family size through policies), the blessings of healthy ageing, and improvements in education and life expectancy. Referring specifically to the political economy of ageing, Eberstadt asserted that governments need to move towards establishing policies that provide for more flexible working conditions and encouraging the movement towards having more self-financed pensions.

The panel discussion ended with a Q&A session. 

This summary was written by GTI Fall Intern 2019, Ivory Lee.

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