The Social Risk of Low Fertility in Taiwan

The Social Risk of Low Fertility in Taiwan

Pei-Yuen Tsai
DOI: 10.4018/ijpphme.2012070102
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This paper examines the low fertility phenomenon in Taiwan and argues that the low fertility problem can be identified as a type of new social risk. Existing studies on new social risks tend to focus on the social risks that have negative influences on individuals but ignore those that have more negative influences on the whole society than individuals, such as low fertility problem. This paper illustrates how the Taiwanese government recognises low fertility as a social risk and how such recognition facilitated the recent development of policies that support families and children.
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Managing social risks is one of the important goals of social policies (Esping-Andersen, 1999). Nevertheless, it appears that social risks have shown significant changes in the past decades. During the period after Second World War, the main social risks were recognised as interruptions of employment due to retirement, unemployment, disability, sickness, and widowhood (Taylor-Gooby, 2004). However, with the changes of social, economic, and demographic circumstances, many scholars have pointed out that there has been a dramatic change in social risk structure in post-industrial society (Bonoli, 2007; Esping-Andersen, 1999; Huber & Stephens, 2006; Taylor-Gooby, 2004).

Although many countries have faced similar trends of post-industrial transitions and challenges, the social risks and problems in every welfare system are not necessarily identical. Since social risks derive from idiosyncratic national contexts with distinct institutions, political structures, and policy discourses, these post-industrial challenges could be translated into different problems in different backgrounds (Pierson, 2001; Prior & Sykes, 2001; Taylor-Gooby, 2004). Under different institutional arrangements, some welfare systems may be more vulnerable to some post-industrial changes. Therefore, the pattern of new social risks in different countries could be very different. Moreover, the identification of social risks could involve a process of social construction and interpretation between many different policy actors in the society (Cox, 2001; Mehta, 2011). Thus, in the circumstances with very different compositions of policy actors and perspectives, the types and extent of social risks or problems recognised by policy makers could be accordingly very different.

This diverse social risk structure in different contexts elicits two questions. Firstly, although some scholars such as Taylor-Gooby (2004) and Bonoli (2006) have indicated several types of new social risks in post-industrial society, the concept, definition, and consequences of these new social risks are mostly originated from the studies on Western welfare states (Aust & Bonker, 2004; Bonoli, 2006; Huber & Stephens, 2006; Larsen & Taylor-Gooby, 2004; Taylor-Gooby, 2004; Timonen, 2004). Given the diversities in social, economic, political, and demographic structure between different countries, it is debatable whether the welfare systems outside the Western welfare states share the same new social risks. Apart from the types of new social risks indicated in existing literature, do these countries outside the Western world have other type of new social risks? In order to gain a more extensive comprehension of new social risks and corresponding policies, it is crucial to examine prominent problems in other societies to explore this issue. As low fertility is a very serious issue in many East Asian countries including Taiwan, this paper attempts to take Taiwan as a case to examine whether low fertility problem in Taiwan can be identified as a type of new social risks.

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