Thursday, May 6, 2010

Taiwan’s Generation X: High hopes meet hard reality

Generation X, those born from 1971-1980, make up Taiwan’s largest population segment. Born at the beginning of the island’s economic boom, they grew up during the island’s most prosperous period and now face a world with fewer opportunities than their Baby Boomers parents.

God’s favored ones

It is not an exaggeration to say that Generation X (Gen X) are God’s favored ones in Taiwan. In the 1980s, Taiwan achieved an economic miracle, becoming one of Asia's Four Little Dragons. In the years from 1978 to 1990, Taiwan's economic growth rate averaged 8.4 percent and the unemployment rate was 1.94 percent. Average national income was US$2,455 in 1980 and increased to US$7,622 by 1990. Martial law was lifted in 1987, so Gen X only have a vague memory of Taiwan under an authoritarian government. They know little about the decades of cold war across the Taiwan Strait, not to mention the military confrontations in the 1950s. Mainly in their thirties, they take Taiwan’s pluralistic, free and democratic society for granted. They are well-traveled and many have studied abroad, giving them a very international outlook.

Baby Boomers, on the other hand, were born in the decades immediately after World War II. In particular, the term refers to the large population of people who were young adults in the 1960s and who went on to define themselves as a distinct generation.

Employment is difficult, getting married even more so

In traditional Chinese culture, marriage and a career are expected to have been achieved by the age of 30. However, for Gen X, it is proving difficult to have a career, much less get married.

Ten years ago, when the first of Gen X started graduating from college, they entered the job market just in time to face the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. In the past 10 years, there have been several economic booms and bubbles with the rise of China’s economy. Taiwan, however, has not enjoyed the same level of economic prosperity. According to the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, Taiwan’s current unemployment rate for workers ages 30-34 is 5.68 percent. In 2000, it was only 2.59 percent.

According to the Interior Ministry, the average age at which men marry is 32.9, while for women, it is 29.5. Both men and women are delaying marriage one to two years compared with ten years ago. This has also led to a significant drop in the birth rate.

Taking control

According to Chiu Tien-chu, professor of psychology at Shih Hsin University, Taipei, Gen X grew up in a culture with abundant choices, but they have difficulty finding a purpose. If you were to consider Baby Boomers as people born in the late 1940s and early 1950s, according the Global View monthly, these are the people who brought about Taiwan’s economic miracle with their hard work ethic and a focus on the Chinese tradition of family. How then can Gen X compare? Chiu said Gen X are not sure of who they are nor what they should do.

Professor Liu Weigong of Soochow University told Global View that the "X generation has broken authoritarian rule, and abandoned the traditional routine of life." Recently, Liu’s assistant quit in order to travel in Nepal. His assistant told him, "I want to spend all my money, and then come back to look for work again." Liu summed up such behavior, saying, "X generation youths do not learn from predecessors. They are a group who set up their own examples and create their own paradigm."

Then again, Lian Chia-an, a 35-year old medical graduate does not work at a famous hospital in a big city. Instead, he works in a remote part of Hualien County, serving a large indigenous population. This year, he participated in Taiwan’s disaster relief team aiding victims in Haiti.

Gen X does not strive for promotion. They value choices, style and have certain tastes. Though this does not mean they live luxuriously since they actually take advantage of information tools allowing them to comparison shop.

Different from the previous generations, many Gen Xers live with their parents. According to the “Eastern Integrated Consumer Profile,” the ratio of Gen X living with their parents is 22.3 percent while that of Baby Boomers at the age of 35 was 12.7 percent.

How to succeed without a rich dad?

Born in 1978, Hsu Chen-bin said, "Until now, all I think about is finding a job, and making ends meet, not long-term career development." An Economics major in college, Hsu has changed jobs four times, staying only a short time because the jobs were not what he was interested in and offered a low salary and promotion opportunities. Chu Hsue-heng, a 35-year-old professional translator pointed out that almost all the successful people in Taiwan's Gen X are celebrities in entertainment, not in other areas. “If you don’t have a rich dad, how can you compete in prominent business and political circles?”

Wang Hsiao-ping, 35, is the daughter of a global OEM shoe king. She said, "The older generation work really hard. My father is 70-years old and is still busy with the factory." She added, "I do not want to work when I am 70. I hope to work up to 45, earn enough money to enjoy life." Wang said, "We Generation X will face a dilemma to take over the family business. If we do take it over, we will be given a burden from our elders; if not, we’ll be blamed by our parents." Ten years ago, she graduated from the Department of Economics, University of Southern California. Afterwards, she started her own business by creating a brand name women shoes, Miss Sofi. She now has 40 stores in Taiwan and China with annual sales in excess of NT$ 600 million (US$18.75 million). She said that the previous generation worked hard, while the young generation pays attention to efficiency and is good at creating a brand name.

"The Baby Boomers are to blame"

“Stupid, it is the baby boom generation!” is a book written by Tu Nan Po (pseudonym) of the generation born in the 1960s. Speaking on behalf of Gen X, he criticizes Baby Boomers in his book.

First, the Boomers are the beneficiaries of Taiwan's economic take-off. During the restructuring of the post-war economic order, dramatic changes took place in Taiwan’s society followed by a quiet science and technology revolution. The Baby Boomers had opportunities as long as they worked hard. Now they are the pillars of Taiwan’s society.

Second, Baby Boomers have criticized Generation X for being unable to endure hardship and competition. In fact, it is the Boomers who have not expanded the job market in the last 10 years. They have set up roadblocks with the patriarchal management style in the workplace, demanding that Gen X be more dedicated, yet giving limited space for the younger generation to develop.

Third, society should give Gen X more opportunities. These younger people grew up in the world of the internet. They are logical thinkers, who are idealistic, enthusiastic and dynamic. They will bring vision and innovation to society.

A hopeful nation is reflected in its young people

Indeed, success has not been as easy for Gen X as it was for the Baby Boomers. Boomers faced a labor-intensive economic structure. Without dazzling degrees, they could get rich as long as they worked hard. Their offspring face a technology-intensive, knowledge-intensive economic structure. Their threshold for success is higher. They also face stiffer competition from emerging economies from India and China. In addition, many jobs are now replaced by automation. The decision-making positions are held by Boomers and there are no job guarantees even with an advanced degree from a foreign university.

An editorial in the Economic Daily points out that it is common for young people to succeed from the ground up if they work hard. Now the young people might have a sound education, but they cannot play to their strengths. Their frustration is understandable.

A professor of political science at National Taiwan University, Tao Yi-feng wrote in the Commonwealth monthly that the majority of the continually unemployed young people are from low- to middle-class families. They are not people who don’t want to work. They just can’t find jobs. Tao urged "the government to consider how to give young people good jobs. This requires a complete policy to enhance the competitiveness of youth and to improve their employment opportunities. The nation is full of hope as long as young people persist with hope ."

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.