While Western society might seem big on their zodiac system, with horoscopes being published on multiple news outlets every day, the proportion of western society that actually truly believes in them is very small. It is actually Eastern society that is the real fan of their (Chinese) zodiac system. With many true believers in this system, the Chinese zodiac has an effect on birth rates in many Asian countries. This article explains why the Chinese zodiac system has an effect on birth rates and what the consequences of this effect are. The Chinese zodiac system exists out of 12 zodiac signs, in the following order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. They repeat each other in a cycle of 12 years, every year symbolizes another animal. Each zodiac sign has their own unique characteristics corresponding with the qualities of the animals the signs are named after. In Asian culture some zodiac signs are seen as more favourable than others.
The zodiac sign that is most preferred is the dragon. To understand why, you need to know the story about the heavenly gate race. This story explains how the zodiac came to be. A very long time ago the Jade emperor wanted 12 animals to be his guards. In order to make it in the guard the animals had to get to the heavenly gate, the earlier they were there the higher rank they got. The ranks correspond with the order of the zodiac signs.
The dragon could have easily placed first. As the only mythological creature the dragon has speed and wings. But instead of winning the race, the dragon stopped on his way to the heavenly gate, to bring rain to parched farmland and to help the rabbit across a river. Doing good deeds caused the dragon to came in fifth instead of first. But because of this story the dragon is still seen as the most favourable zodiac sign. It is believed that children born under the dragon sign are honest, sensitive and brave. They are destined to be successful and wealthy.
Parents purposely time their pregnancy in such a way that their baby is born in the Year of the dragon. While this may sound unbelievable, the actual truth of this rings in a spike of national fertility rate in the years of the dragon, in places such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. In 2000, one of the recent dragon years, Hong Kong saw a 5% increase in the numbers of babies.
And where here is a spike in the year of the dragon, we actually see a decline in fertility rate in the year of the tiger in countries such as Taiwan and Singapore. It is believed that anyone that is born under this sign does not respect authority and is therefore likely to get in trouble. Especially in Asia where the culture is very collective, this is not a desirable trait. In 2010, the most recent year of the tiger, national fertility rates in Taiwan dropped from 1.03 children per woman to 0.9 children per woman. This was the lowest fertility rate in the world. This drop in fertility rate translates to a drop from 191 310 births in 2009 to 166 886 births in 2010. This means there we are almost 25.000 less babies. Two years later, in the year of the dragon, the fertility rate was brought back up to 1.27, this was higher than it had been all decade. In total 229 481 people were born. The belief in the zodiac system is so rooted in the Taiwan society, that firms even look at people’s zodiac signs when hiring. Being born in the year of the tiger can very likely cost you a job.
These rises and falls in fertility rates based on superstition can have very real life consequences. Schools, hospitals and kindergartens have to deal with the struggle of having way more children in one year and then fewer children in the following year. Children born in the year of the dragon will have to live with a lot of competition their whole life. They will have to compete against more people to get in a good school, and in later age will have more competition when entering the labour market.
In sum, we can agree that these real life consequences of the zodiac signs are not desirable, but it does not look like these effects are going to disappear any time soon. Even when the government of Taiwan offered a lot of subsidy and cash prices to parents who had a child in 2010, the year of the tiger, the fertility rate still dropped immensely. The next year of the dragon is in 2024. Only time will tell if the governments of the Asian countries can create a policy that is effective against these birth rates fluctuation, but seeing how deeply the belief in the zodiac is rooted in the culture, I doubt they will succeed.
This article was first published in Girugten (Year 49 of Girugten – issue 02 – november 2018).