Despite government initiatives to boost Singapore’s birth rate, the baby shortage in Singapore continues. What is causing this and what innovative approaches can the government take?
Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR) dropped to 1.20 in 2016 compared to 1.24 the previous year. TFR refers to the average number of children per woman. Singapore faces an ageing population. As a result, Singapore’s working-age population suffers from increased burden of health care and pension provision.
Marriage numbers remain relatively stable; actually, there was a slight increase in 2016 compared to the previous year. According to Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Josephine Teo, many Singaporean women are now entering their peak child-bearing ages of 25 to 39.
The biggest factor is Singapore’s excellent education system
For one, Singapore’s excellent education system has contributed to this issue. Young people are career oriented and are willing to sacrifice or delay marriage to ride up the corporate ladder. Sociologist Professor Straughan said, “The pressure to perform is very strong as the rewards of employment are immediate. There’s promotion at the end of the year, and you get praised. However, if you invest time to find a life partner, nobody is going to praise you.”
Also, Professor Straughan noted that most Singaporeans’ priority is a higher standard of living and this includes purchasing a car and going on overseas trips. As a result, marriage becomes an afterthought.
Singaporean women also refuse to settle. Associate Professor of Psychology at the Singapore Management University Norman Li said, “Women are now becoming more and more educated and earning increasingly more income. So there are increasingly fewer men who meet their standards.”
Also, many graduates also end up spending the first few years of their careers to pay off their education loans.
Singaporean couples are career-oriented and focus on economic stability
Singaporean couples are pragmatic. They think twice about having kids due to high costs of living and child care expenses. The middle-range estimate for raising a child in Singapore runs to about S$360,000.
Many couples delay marriage so that they can save up first. A financial blogger estimated that you need a minimum of $76,000 to have a wedding and get a 4-room HDB flat.
A 2012 study on childless Chinese Singaporean women provides us with some insights. Women in the lower-income bracket with an average monthly pay of $2,350 felt they could not to raise a child while those in the higher-income bracket with an average monthly pay of $6,250 felt they will not be able to juggle their career and motherhood. The women also felt that their husbands will not do their share of taking care of the children.
Jolene Tan, head of advocacy and research at the Association of Women for Action and Research, said, “There’s still many barriers…Many women still face discrimination at work. Working hours in Singapore are still (much) longer than many other civil advanced economies.”
Tackling a multifaceted problem is challenging
To boost the birth rate, the government should address these pertinent concerns first instead of focusing on cash incentives and paid paternity leaves to boost birth rates.
Flexi-work is an interesting programme they should study deeply. If they can turn this into a norm in Singapore, parents can work at home and take care of their children. However, Dr. Straughan acknowledges that this is a tough one to do as the workplace culture needs to shift to a culture of innate trust.
Tjin Lee has an innovative idea to help working parents with kids. Lee is the co-founder of Trehaus, which is a combination of a child-care centre and a co-working space. Lee said, “One thing the government could do is to incentivize or to compensate companies or to give them ways to help employees find a way to work from satellite locations that children can be near them.” He is hoping that businesses will warm up to his idea and help create a culture where working while parenting is encouraged.