More pets than children?
A look at Taiwan's super-aged future
By Julia Janicki, Daisy Chung and Joyce Chou
By Julia Janicki, Daisy Chung and Joyce Chou
In 2018, Taiwan officially became an "aged society,” a label reserved for populations where 15-20% are 65 years or older. But that’s only the beginning. Taiwan’s on track to reach “super-aged society" status around 2025—that’s when the share of folks 65 or older goes over 20%. This rapid demographic shift makes Taiwan one of the fastest aging countries in the world, the social and economic implications of which will need careful planning and strategic policy to address.
Year 1950Population 7623000
Taiwan’s population surged in 1950 for a few reasons. After the Chinese Civil War, more than 1 million people retreated to Taiwan, and industrialization led to the survival of more children. But scarred by the high mortality rates of the previous decades, couples continued to have many kids. In fact, Taiwan’s total fertility rate (the average number of children a woman gave birth to over the course of her lifetime) peaked at 7 at this time.1/6
By 1993, the pendulum had swung back. With the proportion of people aged 65 or older reaching around 7% of the total population, Taiwan officially became an “aging society.” Births had already begun dropping since the government introduced a family planning policy in 1964, but they dropped further as colleges became more widespread in the ’80s and ’90s. Young people began delaying getting married and having kids.2/6
Moving into the 21st century, Taiwan’s fertility rate continued to tumble alongside its marriage rate. Meanwhile, life expectancy climbed further, reaching a new high of 80.7 years in 2018. That same year, Taiwan graduated from an aging society to an aged one as the proportion of people 65 years or older rose above 14%.3/6
Looking ahead, Taiwan’s expected to become a super-aged society around 2026, according to the UN Population Prospects 2022 estimates & medium projection. Some sources estimate even earlier, in 2025. Other countries currently holding this title include Japan, Italy, and Germany.4/6
If all things continue along their current trajectory, Taiwan’s total population will fall below 20 million people around 2067. Some projections, however, show this could happen as early as the 2050s. For comparison, the last time Taiwan had a population under 20 million was in the late 1980s.5/6
Fast-forward 33 years, some projections show that Taiwan will have a population of just over 15 million people. This is on par with the number of people in Taiwan in the early 1970s.6/6
How does Taiwan’s elderly population stack up against other countries? It follows the footsteps of some high-income nations in E.Asia and Europe like South Korea, Japan, and Italy, where the proportion of people aged 65 or older make up more than a third of the total population. In stark contrast, Nigeria and many other lower / lower-middle-income countries, in particular in the African continent where populations are growing rapidly, boast much younger populations.
Here’s how the percentage of Taiwan's senior citizens (ages 65 and above) compares to its working-age population (ages 15 to 64) and the younger generation (ages 14 and below). Can you spot when the dip in Taiwan’s fertility began? As populations age, the proportions of working-age and elderly people naturally rise. Declining birth and fertility rates contributes to a shrinking proportion of children, while increase in life expectancy leads to higher number of elders.
A country’s age structure can shed a lot of light on its social and economic systems. Let’s look at other countries around the world and how their age distributions are expected to change from 1950 to 2100 for comparison.
Nigeria has an extremely young population. Around 3% of the population is 65 or older, while around 43% are under the age of 15. Even by 2100, it’s highly unlikely to become an aged society.
What about other countries?
Besides industrialization and advances in health and tech, changing social and cultural norms have also driven Taiwan’s demographic shift. Whereas Taiwan’s baby boomers saw marriage and childbearing as a responsibility, today’s younger generations view it as an exorbitant cost.
To them, raising a cat or dog offers just as much (or even more) meaningful companionship—and better yet, it’s more affordable. Without strong policy or grassroots movements to tackle the island’s aging population, it’s all but certain that Taiwan has an even more furry future on its horizon.
DataViz/Dev/Research/Analysis: Julia Janicki
Design/Art: Daisy Chung
Editing/writing: Joyce Chou
UN World Population Prospects