Understanding Singapore’s fertility challenge: More than just incentives

by Teo Kueh Liang

I refer to the Straits Times report, “Beyond money: Why financial incentives alone aren’t encouraging more births It’s all in the head” (14 Sep).

Most developed countries’ population is shrinking, which will be an inevitable trend. Singapore is following suit.

Usually, a country encourages its people to have more children based on the following considerations:

  1. Sustainably maintain a sufficient workforce, strengthen the country’s economy
  2. Prevent or delay population aging
  3. Reduce the financial burden on existing taxpayers
  4. Cut the reliance upon foreign immigrants.
  5. Ensuring a sufficient supply of soldiers

The increase of population is indeed in the interest of a nation.

Since 1987, the Singaporean government has actively encouraged its married people (especially those young married couples) to have more children.

The relevant authorities have worked hard, spent huge sums of money, and used a lot of human and material resources to promote procreation.

The government has introduced initiatives to encourage marriage and raise fertility, such as Housing Grants, the MediSave Grant for Newborns, Baby Bonus, affordable and quality preschool education for all, the KidStart programme, and shared parental leave.

However, its results have always been unsatisfactory; they have not reached the pre-set goal of 2.1 replacement fertility rate.

Why is the country’s fertility rate so low? Let’s analyze some possible reasons:

  1. Due to the hustle and bustle of life and high costs of living.
  2. Due to stiff competitions in jobs of this cosmopolitan city, most people are struggling to make a decent living in order to put foods on the table, and people have no desire of priority in the thought of procreation.
  3. Many salaried employees are worried that the economic uncertainty and downturn will affect their company’s business, which will lead to the instability of their jobs and affect their mood for procreation.
  4. Many people worry that raising children is a lifelong matter. Couples must be mentally prepared to a certain extent and must sacrifice their own time, energy and money to plan how to raise children from birth to graduation from college.
  5. Some married couples also worry about having unhealthy babies, such as those born with rare congenital or autistic syndromes.
  6. Certainly, some married couples are unsuitable to have children because of their medical conditions.

Although having children is indeed a natural responsibility, it is originally a joyful thing, and a couple can enjoy the happiness of a family. But it varies from person to person.

Anyway, the subject of procreation is very personal. There is no right and wrong answer to it, and we should respect each individual’s decision.

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