TAIPEI (CNA) - Fewer babies were born in Taiwan in 2017 than in any year in the last four decades except for 2009 and 2010, another sign of Taiwan's worsening aging problem, according to the latest data from the Ministry of the Interior (MOI).
A total of 193,844 babies were born in Taiwan in 2017, down from 208,440 in 2016. It was the sixth time the figure had fallen below 200,000 since 2008.
Births in Taiwan ranged between about 310,000 to 340,000 from 1986 to 1997, with a crude birth rate of above 15 per 1,000 people, but then started falling precipitously in 1998 to just over 200,000 births and crude birth rates below 10 per 1,000 people by the mid-2000s.
The ministry's Department of Statistics said that while Taiwan's total population, reported at 23.57 million at the end of 2017, is still growing, the rate of growth continues to decline, leading to a narrowing gap between Taiwan's birth and death rates.
In 2017, the rate of natural increase (RNI) -- the difference between the crude birth and death rates -- of 0.96 per 1,000 people was the second lowest in the country's history, the department's figures showed.
The decline is likely to continue as the annual number of deaths, which has averaged over 170,000 the past two years, continues to rise.
Of Taiwan's six major metropolitan areas, New Taipei, Taipei, Taoyuan and Taichung all had positive RNIs in 2017, while Tainan and Kaohsiung posted negative RNIs, the figures showed.
Though Taiwan's crude birth rate has averaged 8.73 per 1,000 people over the past three years, Taoyuan has had a crude birth rate of over 10 each year during that time, in part because of family and childrearing benefits and subsidies the city provides. (By Kuan-lin Liu and Liu Lee-jung)