Do you have a boyfriend?

Do you have a boyfriend? Do you want to have children?

At first impression, these questions seemed intrusive and personal. But in Taiwan, it is actually quite a common conversation starter.

While I was there last week, I was mistaken for a Taiwanese. I was having a casual conversation with an elderly at a hotel lobby and I was asked those questions.

Low birth rate is a big concern for Taiwan. With only a small population of 23 million people, many families have just one child or choose not to have any.

This is well below the world's average replacement rate of two children per family.

The Taiwan government is making efforts to encourage its people to produce more babies.

Since 2012, Taiwan premier Ma Ying-jeou, 64, had put in place a monthly childcare stipend of NT$2,500 for newborns, payable to certain households earning an annual net income below NT$1.13 million until the child is two.

The government also hosts matchmaking parties for single people looking for love - although there is very little success.

In Taiwan, it is a common societal expectation for a man to own an apartment if he wants to get married. The wife’s parents will ask the man: “Do you have your own apartment?” Apartments there are very expensive. So if the man don't have an apartment, it’s very hard for him to get married. That’s why many people delay their marriage.

Since more and more women delay their marriage after the age of 35, they face high risks of bearing a second child. So after one child they stop.

Raising a child is very expensive in Taiwan. Out of the total expenditure on a child, two thirds go to education. It is typical for one parent’s entire salary to be spent on their children's education.

Over here in Malaysia, the oil palm industry is already facing an ageing workforce and low replenishment of young talents. A question such as 'do you want to work in the palm oil industry?' is often met with unfavourable response.

The palm oil industry needs to find ways to attract suitable talents (good husbands) to thrive (produce off-springs) and become more relevant to the global economy.

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