a community of singaporeans

Singapore’s declining birth rate

Posted by theonlinecitizen on December 10, 2006

family-2.jpgBy Epilogos

Incredible, but true. Singapore is too expensive a place to have a baby, so many young couples in Singapore think. This is in spite of the fact that in Singapore, both couple – husband and wife – are more likely to hold down a paid job. A new acronym, DINKS, has been invented to describe couples with jobs but no kids (Double Income No Kids).

This situation is not getting any better as more of the population ages. This will be a problem that our shrinking number of kids today will have to contend with in the years to come: support a greater number of aged people – people that are from baby boom generation of the 1950s and 1960s.

If after 41 years, we have arrived at a situation where it becomes too expensive to have even one child, then we need to question our priorities in life and the way organise ourselves. Is our national education system any good at all in producing better prospects for its citizens when it doesn’t allow them to earn enough to even start a one child family? What do we mean by a better life? Is a double-income couple a desirable development for the long term? Are the pressures on performance at work putting undue pressure that inhibits procreation, in spite of the government’s best effort and generous incentives?

Is the education system at fault?

I remember spending years towards getting a degree from a local university. The PSLEs were easy then but I worked my heart out for them nevertheless. I hear that it has become very stressful for parents of children sitting for the PSLE nowadays. The ‘O’ levels, ‘A’ levels and undergraduate studies took a lot out of me. Many in my generation also went through this grueling study mill.

But if after 15 years of continuous studies (6+4+2+3) and thereafter, finding a job that can’t even pay for me to have and support a single baby, then I question the economic value that our education has brought us.

Yes, education trains the mind and uplifts the spirit, provides a skill that enables us to secure a job that feeds us and even obtain subsidised housing under the government’s generous housing policies, but nothing else, it would seem. How then are we better off than our parents?

At the end of the day, our stress (no, we don’t sweat anymore in our fully air-conditioned offices) and toil contributes to the nation’s GDP growth rate while also enabling us to keep up with the Jones’. We feel a sense of pride that we made First World status in 40 years and we are happy when the year-end bonuses will be bigger.

Ironically, within such a First World country where the wealth of its people are the envy of many in the rest of the world, many young, working Singaporeans at their most re-productive periods feel that a baby is just too expensive to bear.

How did we get ourselves into such a ridiculous state?

Even the farmer can feed himself off the land without that 15-year study mill. He has the time and mood to reproduce himself far more extensively than a typical graduate in Singapore. Sure, life may not be as exciting on the farm as in the cities, although some farmers in Lim Chu Kang may disagree. Before modern science and technology alleviates some of the uncertainties, farmers were often at the mercy of nature and the markets.

It boils down to priorities in life

It boils down to a matter of priorities in life, does it not? We tend to live more for ourselves than anything else these days. Technology has given us the ‘My’ generation – MyDocuments, MySpace, MySQL, MyFiles, My*Everything*, except people don’t want MyBaby. We want that car and that condo and that annual vacation (more won’t harm) and that maid (whatever for when you don’t have kids?) and ad nauseum. We want everything, and before we can attain all these material goodies, we have no money nor time for a baby.

People say that in Singapore, it costs upwards of $10,000 for a child, and I am not referring to adoption. But these same people think nothing of shelling out $60,000 for that car, even though the lifetime value of a child and a car are so vastly different, at least in Singapore.

Some people wonder how a family with a household income of $2,000 could raise 5 kids. Well, let me tell you that my Father never earned more than $500 a month and, together with my mother, raised 5 kids who are meaningfully employed today. Even adjusting for inflation and all, it will put people to shame nowadays who think that they do not have enough money.

I had a happy childhood even though I missed out on many material things. Toys were hand-me-downs, walking to school some distance away was a daily routine, though it did me good – figure-wise. Witness the many obese kids nowadays who have had one too many burgers, and chocolates and ice-creams and who are practically chaffeured from one place to another, leading largely sedentary lives.

Money is not the only problem

But money is not the only problem for young couples nowadays.

By its own admission, the government’s special tax incentives such as the Baby Bonus scheme, that are aimed at encouraging couples to have children have not worked at all. In fact, I suggest that it was not the real problem to start out with.

The real problem is a biological/psychological one. If we want our birth rates to increase, then we must get people to marry earlier, and to start a family earlier. Waiting till one is over 30 to start a family will necessarily reduce the ability to sire more children, even if, more likely than not, money would not be a problem then.

Can we slow down a bit but not jeopardise our competitive edge? Can we consciously change the way we measure success and happiness or in other words, change our KPIs?

Some have suggested polygamy as a solution. It is conceivable that polygamous relationships where older men marry and support a younger wife or two may increase birth rates, but this comes with higher social costs and inequity that our womenfolk would not soon accept. It is a fact that from the procreation perspective, it just won’t work the other way around. Women are necessarily ‘out of action’ for at least 9 months but the menfolk can ‘keep at it’.

As Stephen Hawking famously said recently, ‘I don’t have the answers’. But what I suspect is that it requires a significant change in our attitude to life and love – the happiness thing, and a willingness to sacrifice other things for a baby which, in my opinion, is worth more than its weight in gold. Perhaps the immigrants that the government is encouraging can teach us a thing or two about having babies?


About the author

Epilogos maintains a blog here.


18 Responses to “Singapore’s declining birth rate”

  1. Raymond said

    Just my factual opinion.

    As a Chinese guy myself, I think logically, it’s time to give up searching for a mate. I will not have my decendents having agony trying to coax his wife to bear children or trying to cope with the ever increasing “Singaporean Stress”.

    Since birth rate is dropping, that means we are going to Doomsday anyway. It’s a trend that one person can’t stop. So it’s time to stop giving birth, follow the downhill trend, and have my own way of life.

    Once our existence ends, there will be no more worries to speak about. Isn’t that good to just be single? Nobody will stop me too, if I choose to be single 😀

    Any comments?

  2. Hurf said

    I am only 17, but I have to disagree with you. It’s true that nobody in the world can prevent you from being single but your words are quite offensive.

    You are talking as if we have no choice and death is the only solution. The birth rate will and should increase, however, its only a matter of time. And if it doesnt, it’s always the case of ignorant and self-centered people.

    Well, that only my factual opinion.

  3. kenneth said

    if that is the case should females go to ns too?

  4. SARAH said

    what has females gg to NS have to do wwith this?

  5. unknown said

    do you think the government is doing enough to encourage more young couples to have children?

  6. Vertigo said

    I agree with DOS that our overall birthrate is dropping. However, we need to look more closely to establish if there is any buckling trend among different communities. The Malays, needless to say, can reproduce themselves .Next, you must distingish between the Singapore Chinese and the Chinese national or Malaysian Chinese. If you have been to Jurong West and taken a walk through its housing estates, you will witness Chinese National enclaves. There will be pairs of old folks wheeling babies and toddlers in prams, like crocodiles along a river bank. Where I live and observe, almost all of these PRs from China have at least 1 to 2 children.So this group is reproducing themselves. However, I cannot say the same for many of my Singapore Chinese and married friends who are still barren or have only 1 kid after years of marriage. The situation will become scarier if it isn’t already is. One day, these PRC kids will grow up, compete with our singletons for jobs and crowd us out. Just witness their crowding at the playgrounds and basketball courts. The government may be wise in promoting immigration but at what cost? First you allow the young couple from some farming community to settle here, provide them with degrees in our tertiary institutions(my neighbour is one excellent example of a foreigner who has benefitted more from this system than a local) and then allow their parents to come over. Now if we really want to these immigrants to do some good to the economy, I say, do not let the old folks come over. The minute they get approval to come over, their sole purpose is look after their new-born grandchildren. So the money that the young PRC couple will have spent on engaging a nanny or with the infant and child-care centres is saved. That’s why they can afford the second child!But wait, look at our Singapore Chinese families. I have more friends who are forced to engage maids, nannies and infant-care centres to look after their new-borns simply because their parents still have to work and cannot afford to jeopardise their financial standing by quitting their jobs to look after their grandchildren.

    Once I walked by a primary school and I observed that the PRC grandparents were actually free and able to fetch their grandchildren but our local grandparents still have to eke out a living, many clearing tables and collecting aluminium cans from rubbish bins. Isn’t it very sad, ironical and insulting that this is happening in the first place? Who helpled to build up the nation?Was it these struggling grandparents or those from China or India? Nobody needs to answer this question because everybody knows the answer. If the government really wants to reap the benefits of having a higher population, it should firstly, not allow aged parents to come over, and I am not only suggesting the PRC group. Consider the Indians from India. The story is repeated all over, many time over. The Indian couple conceives, gives birth and they bring in their own child-care support-and save costs.Second,the PRs should not enjoy the same privileges as locals. I was shocked and politically offended upon learning that a child of Singapore parents has to compete with PRs right from the first phase of P1 registration. Why is there no differentiation between these 2 groups? So tell me, what benefits are there for locals? No wonder so many thinking Singapore Citizens want to leave this little island.

    Second,the PRs should be made to pay full fees for their children’s education, just like foreigners.
    Without having to subsidise this group, the extra money can then be channelled into helping our poor folks or those who have been retrenched. That way, the government can return the money to the true-blue Singapore citizen whose money and those of his parents helped to build up Singapore into what it is today.
    Third, there should be more careful screening of the qualification of the PRs. Just ask the teachers in the primary schools how many of these foreign(ie PR and foreigner)students have parents who cannot communicate in proper English. Why are we importing more problems than problem solvers? Just because you are Chinese or Indian shouldn’t automatically you for PR. The PR status is too cheap. It cheapens citizenship as a whole because we admit too many who cannot make it in their own country into our shores. If these PRs and foreigners are real talent, why are they here to eke out a living? These should be back home, making big time money. The way I see it, these PRs will not stay in the long run. The minute their kids grow up, are educated here or their parents fall ill or when our economy runs aground, they will leave. I can’t see how these groups are going to build up their attachment to our country.Putting myself into their shoes, I find it hard to come up with any reasons to stay on when things turn bad here.

  7. kylie said

    what measures has Singapore government put in place to encourage couples to have more children?

  8. inez said

    i guess mostly because its really not that affordable to have children in singapore

  9. shoestring said

    The last paragraph puts it so well. And the point about attitude and priorities sums it all for me.

  10. shalom said

    i may just about be the youngest here, but this topic is really quite important. i’m thirteen, and if not for some geography project i wouldn’t be looking at this website at all.
    so, personal opinion, i agree with vertigo totally. like, look at singaporeans now! We are, in a sense, endangered. and soon, we’ll be extinct. that is, if nothing is done. I can’t do anything, of course. YET. and to raymond, if you’re going to give up all hope on life, don’t influence others with your decision. Doomsday. Right. and if you keep talking like that you’re gonna face God in the final judgement.

    what has the government done to encourage more people to have kids? Very little, I suppose, judging by the situation now. If bonuses are the only thing that has been done, then i say it’s not working. Not too long ago you had to pay a fine for every child after the first three. That restricted a lot of people from having more children. Now only, when the situation is getting critical, do people try to reverse what has been done? Too late. With all the problems people are facing now, survival is no mean feat.
    take me for example now. i have two brothers, so that’s three of us altogether. my mum is a full-time housewife, which leaves only my father working. and he’s earning hardly more than a thousand per month. sure, all three of us managed to apply for financial assistance, but our troubles don’t stop there. my father is in his forties and that means “old”, by today’s standards. he was jobless for a year before this too. so, may i ask, what has the government done, AT ALL?

    my personal opinion, and i believe, many others’ too.

  11. kylie said

    do you think all these co-savings scheme etc really encourage couples?

  12. Daniel said

    “my father is in his forties and that means “old”, by today’s standards. he was jobless for a year before this too. so, may i ask, what has the government done, AT ALL?”

    Gov do nothing. If you are not the solution, then you must be the problem. Gov will do nothing to problem.
    But then, if you are the solution, gov will also do nothing because you already is the solution. Then why we did these millions dollars as#$#$holes for ?

    The answer: For Nothing.

  13. shri rah said

    ust like Shalom, i’m also 13 and also here for some old geography project. And I think I disagree with Vertigo…with all the things about Singaporean PRs. I was a PR since I was a year old and I am now a citizen in Singapore. But somehow I agree with the point that people of other countries are given more chances of great survival here. The PRCs cannot be blamed for this. It is true that they left their own country and came to Singapore. But WHY is the question. As for my family, we came from srilanka. The situation there has been quite bad in the recent years. And once we came here, we got everything. My parents were graduates and they got wonderful jobs, a wonderful home, another Singaporean baby (my brother) and many facilities. But all I was told since young was that “we came to Singapore for survival. We must do well in whatever we do. Although u are well off here, you must not get it into your head, strive hard. Do your best. You must be grateful to the country, which welcomed you in the times of dark……” and more. It still runs in my head. However for locals in Singapore, I’ve noticed, with all the luxury, freedom, and you know the facilities for them to have, they forget to strive. They end up blaming those who came here for survival. And for the past years I have also noticed that children from other countries like china and India work harder. Their mathematics is brilliant for example. And not all Singaporean parents are family minded. I mean, they drink; they go to the pub and stuff like that. As far as I know, none of the PRC parents do that, nor do the overseas ones who became citizens afterwards. I might be wrong, but this is my way of looking at what Vertigo said.

  14. Daniel said

    shri,you come from the country that seem more oppressive than Singapore, and naturally you find yourself lucky to be in Singapore. But I suggest you be more sensitive to the plight of citizen here rather blahing how lucky Singaporean is to have such a government. In fact, I do observe one important thing is that the PR and foreigners are less receptive about political thing here because compare to their original country, they feel so lucky that they have little to complain about and moreover they feel they ought not to complain because they choose to come here.

    How much do you know political thing that affect the livelihood of the citizen ?

    How much do you know about the national service that we serve ?

    How much do you know about the GRC, gov body and how they work ?

    I don’t blame you for not knowing anything about Singapore deeply because like many foreigners I interact with, they are so impressed with the images of Singapore that they overlook everything else and rather be ignorant. What Singaporean need is substance not image alone. And sure, the foreigner need image to tell them it is the right place to invest in and that is why gov is making everything beautiful and good at the expense of local.

    Do not perceive Singaporean as whiner or complainer but rather ask yourself why Singaporean will want to complain if the gov able to resolve issue that demonstrate competency for their obscene pay ? If they are incompetent, I rather they stop showing how smart they are so that they can give themselve another rise of salary.

    I suggest you look beyond the image to see thing as they really are rather than what the media and propaganda want you to believe.

    If you really want to know what happening to Singapore, good blogs that worth reading:

    Singaporean do not complain for the sake of complaining, we have much better thing to do.

  15. Daniel said

    shri, I’m sure if you submit your entry to Strait Times, they will surely publish it because it is entry that please their utlimate master.
    On the other hand, foreigner singing praise of the establishment albeit been so ignorant and uncritical is nothing new to me.

  16. shri rah said

    i bet my parent’s will blow up if they knew im writing in a forum. and yes daniel, i think your point is better off from a singaporean. im not worshipping s’pore or anything…im not saying that there is nothing to complain. i agree that local singaporeans ought to be treated better with more opportunities. i know that PRs have been..uhm..maybe “snatching” their opportunities??…but i say, there is room for improvement. and i do not blame anyone. i just found the fact of blaming it all on the foreign expats a little uncomfortable.

  17. Daniel said

    shri rah, I’m not sure why the perception of my comment do make you think we are blaming the foreigner. In fact, I glad that you came to Singapore for better future just like the Singaporean who migrate to other country for better future.

    Why we Singaporean want the foreigner to know is the stand of been a citizen and why the citizen is continuously bearing the cost of foreigner infusion that part of government excessive-FT strategy that seem short-sighted. What is the cost of foreigner coming here and moving to greener pasture elsewhere later when the singaporean has to bear the cost of lower wages to put off high price of their house and survival ? Remember, our gov here is money-faced to help themselves than help the local. As long as it makes money for them, everything goes, and that’s why we are adamant about the government.

    Why are we serving the same liability to compete in the same field level as foreigner ? Why are there a real discrimation in those serving NS and yet the government pretend nothing happen and assume that employer will be understand ? The government here has become overwhelmingly disconnected with the society as long as pursue their own personal gain as we have seen, and we afraid that excessive-FT strategy is part of their follies that detrimental to future of Singapore as well.

    As far, the government made a lot of honest mistake. Remember, when we ask why the government give medicial subsidary to the foreigner, the government then cancel the medical cost where the government should have give citizen better subsidary instead. From here, you can see it is all about profit and money.

    So foreigner, please do not blame us but blame it on our government. The government create a society that is survival of fitness except on themselves. I’m sure one day when you start growing up and treat nothing more like digit, you feel likewise.

  18. Daniel said

    shri rah , feel free to write on the forum if you are really concerned about the future of Singapore.

    “i bet my parent’s will blow up if they knew im writing in a forum. and yes daniel, i think your point is better off from a singaporean.”

    This shows very much the culture of fear that exists in this so-called first world country ! Indeed, it is because of this culture of fear that Singaporean has been marginalized by the government in term of ridiculous rising cost. The foreigner look nothing more than a pawn.

    This is exactly another concern that one day will happen. The gov will want to jack up the population to 6.5 millions, and no doubt these foreigner will get to vote as well (Who to study them from voting anyway ? Singaporean ? You must be kidding !). And sure enough, the foreigner will vote the establish due to fear as you have now expressed. In this aspect, you can say FT strategy is double-edge sword as well as it could be seen as political-motivated.

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