The nation’s working population could shrink to just 51 percent of the total population by the end of 2060, as the number of people leaving the workforce has reached 180,000 people a year, the latest statistics from the National Development Council show.
The nation’s declining birthrate — one of the lowest in the world, the low participation rate of middle-aged workers and a continued outflow of skilled personnel are contributing to demographic changes that mean each senior citizen is supported by just 1.2 working-age people, the council’s statistics show.
The current labor force — which is defined as people aged 15 to 64 — makes up 74 percent of the nation’s 23.37 million people, while seniors aged 65 and over account for 12 percent.
However, the council estimates that the elderly population will more than triple before 2061 — to 38 percent of the total — and the workforce will drop to half of the population.
At present, each senior citizen has the support of 6.2 working-age people, but that will plummet to 1.2 over the next 44 years, the council said.
Council labor specialist Hsieh Chia-yi (謝佳宜) said another trend is for young people to delay their entry to the labor force by extending their studies, even as more middle-aged workers retire relatively early.
The labor market’s problem is worsened by the outflow of highly skilled workers seeking opportunities abroad while Taiwan attracts mostly only basic-level laborers, Hsieh said.
The central government hopes to help remedy the problems by boosting the total labor participation from the current 58 percent to 60 percent in 2020 and encouraging more women to work to raise their percentage of workers from 50 percent to 53 percent, Hsieh said.
However, these measures alone might not be enough to hold off the clouds over Taiwan’s demographic makeup.
Other initiatives include diversifying the job market while trying to convince young people to get a job before seeking a master’s degree, which Hsieh said could help resolve the problem of advanced degree holders who lack real workplace experience.
The council has also talked about creating “friendly work environments” to entice Taiwanese to return from abroad, though it did not provide specific measures.
National Development Council Deputy Minister Kao Shien-quey (高仙桂) advocates more flexible hours, including flexible vacation time, to encourage women to return to the workforce after having children.
Whatever measures it adopts, the council will have its work cut out, as the nation moves closer to becoming an aged society — a point that could come as early as next year.
The population is expected to peak at 32.5 million or 23.6 million between 2019 and 2026, and Taiwan could become a “super-aged” society in which the elderly make up 20 percent by 2025, council estimates show.
The council has recommended developing “smart” industries based on automation to reduce the reliance on a shrinking labor force and keep the nation’s manufacturing dominated economy running even without people at the helm.