We're always looking for ways to make better. Have an idea? See something that needs fixing? Let us know!

Taiwan: Society
Country Study > Society


Population: Taiwan’s population was estimated in July 2004 at 22,749,838. The population at the most recent census (2000) stood at 22,300,929. The annual population growth rate is 0.64 percent. Estimates put Taiwan’s population density at 705.2 persons per square kilometer in 2004, the second highest in the world after Bangladesh. The most densely populated area is Kao-hsiung, with 9,827 persons per square kilometer; Taipei is second, with 9,720 persons per square kilometer. About 69 percent of the population lives in urban areas and 31 percent in rural areas.

Demography: According to estimates of Taiwan’s age structure, 19.9 percent of the population is 0–14 years of age; 70.7 percent, 15–64 years of age; and 9.4 percent, 65 and older. Estimates made in 2004 indicate a birthrate of nearly 12.7 births per 1,000 population and a death rate of almost 6.3 deaths per 1,000. In 2004 life expectancy at birth was estimated at nearly 80.1 years for women and 74.3 for men, or 77.0 years total. The infant mortality rate was estimated at 6.5 per 1,000 live births, and the total fertility rate for 2004 was estimated at about 1.6 children per woman. The gender ratio at birth was 1.1 males to 1 female.

Migration: In the 1960s, numerous Taiwan residents left for educational and employment opportunities abroad in industrialized nations, but as Taiwan became an economic powerhouse in the 1980s and 1990s, many returned or stayed. Migration from Taiwan since the 1990s has been primarily to mainland China, mostly to Shanghai and Guangdong Province.

Ethnic Groups: Native-born Taiwanese, including Hakka (originally from upland areas of Guangdong and Fujian), make up 84 percent of the population. Mainland Chinese constitute 14 percent of the population and tribal aborigines about 2 percent. Since 1994, the aborigines, once referred to by the government as “mountain compatriots,” “mountain people,” or “Taiwanese aborigines,” officially have been called Yuan-chu-min or “Taiwan aboriginal peoples.” The Ministry of Interior reports that Taiwan has 12 major indigenous peoples: the Amis, Atayal, Bunun, Kavalan, Paiwan, Pinuyumayan or Punuyumayan, Rukai, Saisiyat, Thao, Truku, Tsou, and Yami. In 2002 indigenous peoples in Taiwan totaled 433,689, with the Amis representing 32.3 percent of the total, followed by the Atayal (14 percent) and the Paiwan (13.8 percent). Many of these indigenous people live in the eastern half of Taiwan on mountainous reservations that cannot be sold to non-aborigines.

Languages: The major and official language is Mandarin Chinese (Kuo-yü, or national language), which is the first language of about 20 percent of the population, mainly in Taipei (Taipei dialect) and other large cities, and is spoken as a second language by many others. The Taiwanese dialect (T’ai-yü, also known as Minnan) is spoken by about 70 percent of the population and is becoming widely used in the broadcast media. Although there are about 4 million Hakka in Taiwan, the Hakka dialect is spoken mostly by the older generation. The Wade-Giles system of romanization of Mandarin Chinese words prevails in Taiwan even though in 1984 the Ministry of Education adopted a modified system of Mandarin romanization called Gwoyeu Romatzyh (National Phonetic Symbols), which was devised by the Republic of China government in 1928. Then, in 2002 the government officially adopted the Tongyong (universal) Pinyin (combined sound) system—similar to Hanyu (Han language) Pinyin used in mainland China—as recommended in 1996 by the Educational Reform Council. Aboriginal peoples once spoke 24 Austronesian languages, but seven of these languages are extinct, with only a few elderly people knowing a few words. The population includes a few thousand Japanese speakers; Japanese is spoken mostly among elderly aboriginal populations and as a second language by Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Hakka speakers.

Religion: Freedom of religion is guaranteed in Article 13 of the Republic of China constitution. In the early 2000s, of Taiwan’s 12.7 million temple, church, and mosque members, 42.9 percent were Buddhists, 35.6 percent were adherents of Daoism (Taoism), 6.6 percent were believers in I-kuan Tao (Yiguan Dao, Religion of One Unity, a modern syncretic faith), 4.7 percent were Protestants, and 2.3 percent were Roman Catholics. The 16 other religions tabulated by the Ministry of Interior include Islam (4.1 percent) and Confucianism, described as “a philosophy with a religious function” (1 percent). Taiwan has 23,201 temples and churches, and most are Daoist temples (37 percent), Buddhist temples (17.4 percent), or Protestant churches (15.5 percent). Among the general population, religious beliefs are often eclectic rather than exclusive, such as Christianity and Islam. Many people in Taiwan belong to a particular temple or specific religious sect but engage regularly in religious practices based on one or more religious traditions. Thus, small shrines are seen throughout Taiwan honoring a deity, a hero, or an ancestor. The goddess Mazu, to whom are attributed seeing the future, curing the ill, and rescuing people imperiled on the sea, is extremely popular in Taiwan, and more than 400 temples honor her. While many aborigines are animists whose beliefs center around deities in nature, spirits of dead people, living creatures, and ghosts, more than 70 percent are said to be Christians.

Education and Literacy: The right to an education is guaranteed by the Republic of China constitution. A nine-year compulsory public education system has been in place since 1979, with six years of elementary school and three years of junior high. Nearly 94 percent of junior high graduates go on to senior high or vocational schools. Mandarin Chinese is the medium of instruction. In school year 2003–4, the system included 3,306 preschools, with 240,926 students and 21,251 teachers; 2,638 primary schools, with 1.9 million students and 103,793 teachers; and 1,192 secondary schools, including vocational schools, with 1.7 million students and 97,738 teachers. During the same school year, there were 158 institutions of higher education, with 1.3 million students and 47,472 faculty members, and another 958 special and supplementary schools (such as adult and continuing education), with 5.7 million students and 277,773 teachers. Enrollment rates have improved with the increasing development of Taiwan’s economy. In 2002 some 97 percent of children aged 6 to 11 were enrolled in primary schools, and 90 percent of children aged 12 to 17 were enrolled in secondary schools. Some 46 percent of the population was enrolled in tertiary levels of education (vocational schools, colleges, universities, adult education, and other postsecondary schools), and 12.9 students per 100 households were enrolled in colleges and universities in 2002. Graduate programs are expanding in the early twenty-first century, but many college degree holders seeking postgraduate education continue to go abroad. Formerly, the Kuomintang (KMT) imbued the education system with the goal of reunification with China under KMT rule. After the KMT lost control of the executive branch of government to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2000, the new school curriculum began to offer more Taiwan-based content, including the study of Taiwanese language and literature. Taiwan had a literacy rate of 96.1 percent as of 2003.

Health: In 2002 Taiwan had nearly 1.6 physicians and 5.9 hospital beds per 1,000 population. Throughout the Taiwan area, there were 36 hospitals and 2,601 clinics in 2002. Per capita health expenditures totaled US$752 in 2000. Health expenditures constituted 5.8 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2001; 64.9 percent of the expenditures were from public funds. As with other developed economies, Taiwan’s people are well-nourished but face such health problems as chronic obesity and heart disease. In 2003 the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis hit Taiwan, but the island was later declared safe by the World Health Organization (WHO). In November 2004, the Department of Health announced that human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) had become an increasingly serious problem in Taiwan. The first reported case surfaced in 1984. In 2004 there were 6,850 known cases, with 92.9 percent of the infections occurring in Taiwanese and 7.1 percent in foreigners. In 2003 there were 860 new cases of HIV infections, and by October 2004, 1,120 new cases were confirmed on the island. This announcement was followed by the launching of a new public awareness campaign.

Welfare: The government has offered a national health insurance program since 1995 through the National Health Insurance Bureau. Under this plan, employers pay 60 percent of the costs, employees 30 percent, and the government 10 percent. In 1984 the government established rules for the allocation and management of a then-new Workers’ Retirement Fund. The rules provide that a retiree is entitled to a maximum pension equal to 45 times his average wage in the six months prior to retirement. To ensure that workers receive this pension should their employer file for bankruptcy, the government also set up a Wage Arrears Repayment Fund to which all employers are required to contribute a small percentage of each employee’s salary. Since 1993, a monthly subsidy has been provided to all people 65 and older and to low-income families. In 2002 the government established a monthly pension of US$86 for residents 65 years or older who meet certain requirements.

Last Updated: March 2005

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Taiwan was first published in 2005. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

Taiwan Main Page Country Studies Main Page

Section 5 of 9


Click any image to enlarge.

National Flag

(NT$) Taiwan Dollar (TWD)
Convert to Any Currency


Locator Map