A February 22 Wall Street Journal article highlighted increasingly aggressive measures taken by Singapore’s government to encourage couples to have children. The government is seeking to provide incentives to families that could include housing, preschool, and transportation benefits.
In 2018, Singapore’s fertility rate was an abysmal 1.14 children per woman, only half of the 2.2 average required for demographic stability. This statistic is particularly deflating given that the government has actively implemented measures to encourage childbearing for years. On heybaby.sg, a government hub for policies in support of having more children, a 29-page booklet summarizes benefits available to new parents and parents of multiple children. The very first page of the booklet reads:
Supporting Singaporeans in fulfilling their plans to get married and raise families is a key national priority. The Marriage & Parenthood Package provides comprehensive support that is made for families, and has been enhanced over the years to address the evolving needs of Singaporeans. This booklet provides an overview of the support that is available to support Singaporeans at every stage of their marriage and parenthood journey. Everyone can play a part to make Singapore a great place to start and raise families!
With brightly colored graphics and images, the booklet outlines benefits by category, including, “housing, workplace and community support, preschool and education, better health, caring for our children, and transportation.” The final section of the booklet gives examples of benefit combinations from multiple categories available to different types of families.
Singapore hasn’t always had fertility problems. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, amidst worldwide fearmongering about overpopulation, government policies actively encouraged couples to have fewer children. By all statistics, those efforts to limit family size were dramatically successful. Their effects are regrettably being felt a generation later, even though Singapore’s government reversed course in 1987 to encourage having “three or more, if you can afford it.” In a world that so often emphasizes personal autonomy and sees children as the enemy of freedom, Singapore is far from the only country facing potential problems from a low fertility rate.
Josephine Teo, Singapore’s Minister for Manpower, told The Wall Street Journal, “We must actively lean against the wind to make marriage and parenthood achievable, enjoyable, and celebrated.” Clearly the government is trying, but it faces a stiff headwind in the face of a trend amongst young Singaporeans towards “prioritizing other goals such as furthering their education, building their careers, and travel” over starting a family. There are slight indicators of course correction to this trend, such as an average of 33,000 citizen births recorded each year between 2014 and 2018, compared to 31,400 a year in the five years preceding 2014. Those modest gains, though, have done little to budge the overall fertility rate.
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