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The real issues behind Singapore’s birth rate decline—not single women

Straits Times reports the Department of Statistics attributes the drop in Total Fertility Rate (TFR) to fewer married women. But what about factors like higher education, career prioritization, cohabitation, giving birth at older ages, and the lack of alternatives for those who choose to stay single?



The Straits Times article on declining birth rates in Singapore, headlined, “Rising share of women staying single is behind S’pore’s great baby drought,” appears to place the blame on the growing number of women remaining single.

According to the article, the Department of Statistics (DOS) analysis of the factors behind the falling Total Fertility Rate (TFR) found that the drop in TFR between 2005 and 2023 was due to a decline in the proportion of married women, which offset slight increases in the fertility rate of married women.

This rationale, however, is quite distorted. It fails to consider the broader societal changes influencing marriage and fertility trends, presenting a narrow view of the issue.

First, while it is true that the proportion of married women in younger age groups has declined, this does not fully explain the drop in TFR.

Societal changes, such as women prioritizing higher education and careers, evolving cultural norms around marriage, and the increasing acceptance of cohabitation without marriage, also play significant roles. These factors contribute to delayed marriage and childbearing, but they don’t necessarily mean that women are foregoing having children altogether.

Second, the increase in marital fertility rates among older women suggests that women are not necessarily having fewer children; instead, they are having children later in life.

This shift in timing can affect TFR calculations, which are sensitive to the age distribution of childbearing. The rise in marital fertility rates for women aged 35-39, from 45.5 per 1,000 married women in 2005 to 62.9 per 1,000 in 2023, demonstrates that many women are still choosing to have children, albeit at older ages.

Moreover, the focus on the proportion of married women ignores the fertility contributions of unmarried women. Increasing numbers of births to unmarried women, either through cohabitation or single parenthood by choice, are not captured if the analysis only considers marital fertility. This omission skews the understanding of overall fertility trends.

Lastly, the fall in the proportion of married women aged 25-29 from 52.1% in 2005 to 29.2% in 2023 should be viewed in the broader context of changing life goals and socio-economic factors influencing marriage decisions. It is overly simplistic to attribute the drop in TFR to this demographic shift without considering the multifaceted influences on fertility behaviour.

In the article, Professor Jean Yeung points out that single unwed mothers are deemed illegitimate in Singapore, highlighting a significant issue.

While Singapore aims to boost childbirth, it simultaneously imposes numerous restrictions on women who wish to have control over their reproductive choices due to its moral position on family structure.

For instance, only legally married couples can use their frozen eggs for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), adhering to the idea of “upholding parenthood within marriage.” This policy limits the options for many women who want children but do not wish to marry.

Another significant issue is the adoption of children.

In May 2022, the People’s Action Party government passed the Adoption of Children Act to provide more clarity and tighten rules to ensure adoptions are in line with Singapore’s public policy after the Ministry of Social and Family Development reviewed adoption laws following a landmark case in which the High Court approved a gay Singaporean’s bid to adopt his biological son from a foreign surrogate on appeal — surrogacy is not legal in Singapore.

Speaking at the debate on the passing of the law, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli stated that couples wanting to adopt a child must be married under laws recognized by Singapore, and marriages taking place overseas must also be legally recognized in Singapore.

Mr Masagos added, “This means that only a man and a woman married to each other can apply together. This is because Singapore’s marriage law only allows a man and a woman to marry each other.”

He reiterated that the government does not encourage planned and deliberate single parenthood as a lifestyle choice.

Marriage is increasingly seen as optional rather than a necessity. Restricting childbirth for married couples is likely to exacerbate the issue.

According to a 2021 survey by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), while 92% of married respondents wanted two or more children, about half had one child or none. Additionally, 77% of single respondents expressed a desire for children.

Channel News Asia shared that it conducted a YouGov poll in March, which revealed that 25% of 1,023 respondents aged 18 to over 55 did not have children and did not plan to have any in the future. This highlights a broader trend that both men and women are increasingly viewing marriage and parenthood as separate from their personal fulfilment and life goals.

Despite the government’s extensive measures to encourage childbirth, such as Baby Bonus cash gifts, extended maternity and paternity leave, and co-funding for IVF treatments, these efforts have not sufficiently addressed the underlying issues.

In the ST article, it was noted that a study co-authored by IPS senior research fellow Kalpana Vignehsa found that women aged 21-34 were significantly less interested in marriage and parenthood than men in the same age group. The study polled about 2,400 Singapore residents in 2023.

Dr Vignehsa noted that women expressed concerns about having to shoulder the bulk of caregiving and domestic responsibilities, observing their mothers’ burnout and doubting their male counterparts’ readiness to be equal partners at home.

Furthermore, the financial incentives provided do not alleviate long-term financial anxieties. Dr Tan Poh Lin of IPS notes that addressing the root causes of parental stress and promoting healthier parenting cultures are crucial. Policies must align with modern child-rearing practices, which require significant parental involvement and more equal participation from both parents.

The government’s staunch position on singles having babies and adoption by families not recognized under Singapore law suggests a focus that may not be concerned with the issue of birth.

Singapore’s fertility rate of 0.97 is well below the replacement rate of 2.1, which is the level of fertility at which the population replaces itself from one generation to the next.

CNA also quoted one of Singapore’s highest-ranking government officials tasked with overseeing the issue, saying: “We will never go back to replacement rate.”

Many would assume that the government has long given up on or has no interest in improving the birth rate. Instead, it is taking a liberal approach to immigration, accepting over 20,000 new citizens and granting over 30,000 new Permanent Residents each year to meet a planned population of 6.9 million by 2030.

While the government states that the total population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030, the trend of increasing immigration continues. With Singaporean seniors dying off and Singaporean couples having fewer births, Singapore’s core population might be replaced with new immigrants in a few decades.

In connection with the above, the current generation lives in a more competitive environment, where new immigrants—particularly Permanent Residents and employment pass holders—are willing to work for lesser pay and longer hours. This creates a belief that one must outcompete others to survive.

As former Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong puts it, “You must make sure you steal somebody else’s lunch.”

This environment is less conducive for singles or families to consider having children, given the increased burden and responsibility for their children, both financially and mentally. They also anticipate that their children will grow up in an environment where they are unlikely to receive the same level of support for housing from their parents as the past and current generations.

Singapore’s approach needs to evolve to meet the changing views on marriage and parenthood. Restricting reproductive options for married couples is counterproductive. Instead, the focus should be on creating an environment where individuals feel supported in their choices to have children, regardless of their marital status. This includes policy reforms that address work-family conflicts, gender norms, and the financial pressures associated with raising children.

By acknowledging and addressing these deeper issues, Singapore can better support its citizens in fulfilling their desires for parenthood, ultimately improving the nation’s fertility rate. This is rather than gaslighting single women into thinking that it is their fault that Singapore is having fewer babies and guilt-tripping them into marrying and helping improve the national birth rate.

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A. The HUGE gulf of RICH-POOR Discrepancies, LOCAL-FOREIGN Divides in So Many SPECTRUMS of Singapore society (PAP often say SG is ONLY a society in their Official Terminology, BUT when it suits them like EQUAL MISERY, they use the term WE as and when NEED to BRAINWASH sheeps), B. the HUGE RIDOUT EMPEROR BUNGALOW-HDB Flat Division LIVING (when senior citizens contributing in the 50s 60s to where is SG Today) – DO BOTH these Example Practical Living Events they MAKE Singaporeans WORTH to slog to ENLARGE SG, by marrying, raising children. What is the FWD SG mean to ordinary people?… Read more »

Birth Rates WILL NEVER NEVER NEVER rise because of UTTER CONTEMPT of PAP Administration, in Favour of F Talents AND their Wild Gambling on F Ts hoping to become Voters for them. Why. 1.PAP focus on SELFISH creation of PAP Kingdom, ENTIRELY NOTHING to do for Nationalism in SG – did PAP raise VOICE against China for detention of SAF priced Armour Vehicles in HK. 2. Did PAP organise SG protest against PRC cyber attacks against SG. PAP has NO PRIDE and NO Nationalism Spirit to FIGHT for u and me – YES the PAP FIGHT LIKE MAD AGAINST OWN… Read more »

Birth Rates WILL NEVER NEVER NEVER rise because of UTTER CONTEMPT of PAP Administration, in Favour of F Talents when they DEGRADE Sheeps into Xs MERELY only for their STAY in Power annually ONCE DECIDED every 5 years. The chocolates, candies handed out in INCREASE frequencies, IS FACTUAL testimony of the GREAT PAP Administration GREED.

ST cannot put the blame to their sugardaddy, rite?
Otherwise they would put their annual SGD 180,000,000.00 pocket money on stake !!!

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Straits Times propaganda rag has been doing “taichi” for the ruling government since Ancient Times™! What do I mean by that? Shifting the blame from the ruling government to the people of course. Why are more women choosing to stay single? The answer, oh women are simply choosing to be single due to personal choices. Of course it has nothing to do with: 1) High cost of living 2) Poor work-life balance leading to less time available for social / leisure activities (This affects men too) 3) High costs to starting a family and having children just as sky-high private… Read more »

So many factors to consider. It is ridiculous to place the blame on women alone. Cost of living requires both parents to work. How about maid costs, child care centre costs and the 12 years of tuition costs for the maths. and mandatory second language ? So why would anyone in their right senses want to have children in Singapore? The govt. is increasing the population with foreigners so really why keep talking about TFR?

Everything is just too expensive, beginning with housing…anyone in the right mind will be hesitant to take that big step ..

Last edited 11 days ago by W.A.J.