The total fertility rate (TFR) of Singapore dropped to a 7-year low of 1.16 in 2017, making it the second-lowest figure in recorded history since 1.15 in 2010.
The figure was revealed by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Officer Josephine Teo, the same minister who drew flak in 2016 for stating “You need a very small space to have sex”.
Looks like Singaporeans didn’t have enough space in 2017.
On a more serious note, a fertility rate this low is a major issue – and perhaps Singapore ought to focus more resources to tackle it.
It compounds a problem that presses us more and more as time passes – a rapidly aging population.
The last time Singapore had a TFR above the replacement rate of 2.1 was in 1976. These babies would be 42 years old by the end of this year.
In other words, in order to maintain a stable population in Singapore, immigrants are necessary to ‘plug-in’ for every lack of Singaporean baby born after 1976.
The financial burden on the working population in Singapore will thus continually increase, and since it is not in our interest to increase corporate or income taxes to better attract big companies and talent, other forms of taxes will inevitably continually rise.
Higher taxes and more immigrants, which public sentiment is growing toward the negative spectrum of ‘stealing Singaporeans’ jobs‘, is both socially and politically undesirable.
The low total fertility rate is a huge underlying problem that really needs to be addressed; or Singapore could face even more severe effects in the future – much more than simply a 2% rise in GST.
Unwillingness to settle down
An unwillingness to have babies can be attributed to many factors.
Mainstream media reports of the case have usually cited cultural factors – people, particularly women, have become more career-minded, and are unwilling to settle down fast.
This is certainly true to an extent.
The global trend is, simply put, that as the standard of living improves and cost of living increases, people are less likely to have babies.
Costs of starting a family
However, to simply attribute a low TFR to uncontrollable cultural factors would be erroneous.
In all probability, the biggest problem afflicting Singaporean married couples is cost – assurance of housing, and the expensiveness of raising children.
We have seen some effort put in to improve housing support – HDB recently announced this year it would be building 1,100 BTO flats with shorter waiting times of 2.5 years, and another 2,000 flats next year.
Proximity Housing Grants have also been revised in this year’s budget, to allow married couples to purchase homes within 4km of their parents with a larger grant.
Childcare support has also been made more affordable, and 40,000 childcare centres are being developed in the following 5 years to allow greater accessibility to childcare services.
However, all of these merely relieve the burden of cost marginally.
The cost of raising a child in Singapore for 20 years is estimated to be from S$200,000 at the low end to over S$1 million at the high end, where S$360,000 being a middle-range average.
Additionally, a perverse effect of meritocracy is an obsession with achievement – parents would want the ‘best’ for their children – sending them for tuition, piano lessons, etc., which would add up in cost considerably.
In simple terms, Singaporeans, when planning their finances, would not want to have more children than they can assure would receive the best education possible.
It is a culmination of these factors – expensiveness of raising children, alongside parents’ fear they would not be able to provide enough for their children – that probably stop Singaporeans from having more children.
Not just the cost of housing, or simply childcare for the first few years of a child’s life.
And of course, not because Singaporeans don’t have enough space to reproduce.
Ultimately, the issue of a low TFR is complicated – there are many factors affecting it. However, better legislation can definitely improve the situation.
Raising costs of living via taxes could result in a vicious cycle – and the number of Singaporeans to continue to diminish year-by-year.
A fixation on the traditional nuclear family in the purchasing of HDB flats and childcare schemes could also be hindering growth in this area.
If you’re a Singaporean, you should be concerned by this issue, and the title of this article – because it deeply affects our future 5, 10, 20 years down the road.