updated 23 Sep 2012, 03:22
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Sun, Sep 23, 2012
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Children's love is priceless
by Dawn Tay

THE recent recession may have dealt a double whammy to Singapore – having an impact on not just its economy, but also its declining birth rate.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sounded the alarm that about 170 fewer babies were born here last year than in 2008 – a worsening sign of Singapore’s long headache of how to boost flagging fertility rates.

Speaking at the seminar Singapore Perspectives 2010, organised by the Institute of Policy Studies, he said: “Perhaps this (the decline) was because of economic troubles, but, even so, it (the flagging fertility rate) is still a grave trend. If unchecked, we will face not just an ageing, but (also) a shrinking, population.”

Provisional figures from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority’s Registry of Births and Deaths showed that 39,654 babies were born last year.

This drop from the 39,826 babies born in 2008 put an untimely end to a brief respite from the downward trend – in 2008, the number of babies born had been 336 more than that in 2007.

Yesterday, PM Lee said that the best economic policy will not bring Singapore growth if its population starts to decline – or if its citizens lack the talent to solve problems, create opportunities, or lead the country in government, business and society.

He was confident of restructuring the economy in the wake of the financial crisis, but less than upbeat when it came to encouraging Singaporeans to have babies.

Referring to the slew of government baby-boosting measures implemented that has, thus far, failed to stem the decline in birth rates for a sustained period, he said: “The mountain has moved but we’re waiting for the mouse to come out... I’m not confident that it can be done, but we have to do our best, and immigration has to be part of the solution.”

The Government has sought various means to encourage Singaporeans to have more children, with the fertility rate plunging from 1.6 in 2000 to 1.28 in 2008 – far below the 2.1 needed for a population to replace itself.

It offered larger cash incentives to defray child-rearing costs, paid child-care and infant-care leave and subsidies, and longer maternity leave of four months, up from two months.

As there is currently no other alternative to topping up Singapore’s population numbers, save opening its doors to foreigners, the issue of immigration and integration would be around for some time, PM Lee warned.

However, he stressed that Singapore could not rely solely on foreigners to sustain its population, so as not to “shift the tenor of our society and dilute the Singapore spirit”.

Singapore is not alone in facing the prospect of an ageing and dwindling population.

PM Lee cited the example of South Korea, whose health ministry recently turned off its office lights at 7pm to persuade staff to go home to their loved ones and make babies.

On Singaporeans’ reluctance to have babies, Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist from the National University of Singapore, said: “All things considered, the costs outweigh the benefits.

“To tip the balance, one needs to really love being a parent and having someone to love; otherwise, there is no compelling reason to have children.

“Ironically, the people who could afford to have children see having children as involving high opportunity costs; while many who can ill-afford to have children see them as a good investment for the future.”

A possible solution would be for people to realise that giving love is a “wonderful human experience which money cannot buy” and receiving love is “worth all the money spent on raising children”, he said.

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong had said on Sunday that Singapore needs to become less dependent on foreign workers.

As a result, Singaporeans must raise productivity growth from 1 per cent a year to 2 or 3 per cent, PM Lee said.

On the focus on productivity, NRA Capital executive chairman Kevin Scully said: “In a period of economic recovery, it makes sense to retrain Singaporeans to meet labour needs, which are now less robust given the slower growth.”

PM Lee reiterated that economic growth of 5 per cent per annum is no longer realistic, as Singapore is now more developed and can no longer grow as rapidly as before.

Instead, the focus should be on maximising existing land and labour resources, and raising the productivity of businesses and workers here, he said.

A report by the Economic Strategies Committee, due next week, is expected to address the subject, as will the Budget speech next month.

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readers' comments
I really not see how the incentives can work with pro immigrants policy, it can only work with anti immigrants policy. If employers are given the alternatives to employee local or foreign women work force(with work pass stated they are not allowed to get pregnant), they will not employ loal married woman, unless the policy are fine-tune, if not, one should not put high hope Singaporean to improve their birth rate based on current policy with fear of losing their jobs
Posted by todayview on Wed, 27 Jan 2010 at 01:09 AM
Sorry, I really don't see how the incentives can really work with the pro immigrant policy, think the incentives can only work with anti immigrants policy, if employers are given the alternatives to employ local or foreign, of course they will choose foreign female staff holding work permit or employment pass stating that they are not supposed to get pregnant during employment period, employers will find excuses not to employ married Singapore women, so how can singapore married women get pregnant with peace of mind, without the worry of losing their job during pregnancy and more middle age executives losing their jobs due threat of foreign talents, more will be worrying about their rice bowl. I really don't see how the birth rate of Singaporean can improve if these problems are not fine-tune.
Posted by todayview on Wed, 27 Jan 2010 at 01:02 AM
Dear AsiaOne Diva

Strange that this topic is discussed in the Diva sub-brand section.

I want to be radical here and challenge the government to find out:

WHY are the so-called attractive 'incentives' not succeeding?

Maybe the government should be bold and offer for the next 3 years, a child for S$100k/year for the next 10-years and see if there are more takers?

i.e. I am saying maybe our so-called 'attractive' incentives are NOT attractive enough!

Take a risk and if it succeed at least we have 3 years of bumper crops!! Will it break the bank? or the reserve? unlikely. But then, what do I know about national finance compared to those multi-million dollar paid government officials. They should know.

Best regards
LU Keehong Mr.
Posted by Lukeehong on Tue, 26 Jan 2010 at 21:54 PM
They never solve the problems at the roots, how would the birth rate increase? Most couples love to have children, but in a modern society, there are plenty of challenges, mostly monetary. One would have to make a living, spend enough time nurturing the children, and have a life. Look at the odds of able to doing all of them at once, do you think it's possible? Majority of families here are making ends meet, especially when Singapore has a high cost of living, homes, cars and education, medical care etc... Let's say the car is not a necessity, but imagine what hassle if you have to push a pram onto a bus or MRT? In the modern age, most children do not "feed" the aged anymore, so the couples here rather not take the risk of having extra burden of having a children, so they can continue to work .....
Posted by larcshimada on Tue, 26 Jan 2010 at 16:05 PM
If you give me your kind of multi-million dollars salary, I can work very hard with 10 women every night to populate Singapore. Unfortunately average Singaporean couldn't afford to have a rooftop over their head, eat and struggle to survive. How can you expect them to have baby? Mind you FT/FW are here to rob Singaporean of their Jobs. Every year Singapore Government keep raising the cost of living, tax and citizen just need to Pay & Pay. Ridiculous HDB price, Hospital ward charges higher than 5 Star Hotel. GIC, GRC keep losing millions & billions of dollars without accountability and government start milking singaporean to replenish the state coffer. So Mr Lee, know your backyard before you start barking.
Posted by sureerat_tang on Tue, 26 Jan 2010 at 15:49 PM
It's always funny to watch from the outside how Singapore government comes out with great excuses, and always forgive themselves when they get burn. It's always the Singaporeans' fault.... it's never the government.... the government and its companies can lose billions of dollars, and it's just a learning lesson... I'm not just referring to GIC.... plenty of examples in the past already. When I first left Singapore, its population was 3 millions. In 15 years, the population exploded to 5 millions. Right, Singaporeans are not producing enough babies. So their economic policy is simple... expand the population. I think it's the only country in the world that uses population to boost its economy, and not economic policy.... where were the days of Mr. Goh Keng Swee's economic policy? Where were the days of Richard Hu's economic and fiscal responsibility? The Chinese has already said: The first generation grows, the second .....
Posted by ovipconsult on Tue, 26 Jan 2010 at 13:37 PM
"PM Lee said that the best economic policy will not bring Singapore growth if its population starts to decline – or if its citizens lack the talent to solve problems, create opportunities, or lead the country in government, business and society."

They never learn do they?.. Linking a Singapore's economic development and growth to having babies for it is a complete turn off..
Posted by 0517elias on Tue, 26 Jan 2010 at 13:29 PM

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