Singapore’s fertility rate is at an all-time low: here are the numbers

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While our government has been pushing out various measures to incentivize couples to give birth, Singapore’s fertility rate has dropped yet again.

Here are the numbers: back in 2017, Singapore’s total fertility rate plunged to a seven-year low of 1.16, and in 2018, it fell again to 1.14. The fertility rate represents the average number of children a woman in Singapore would have in her lifetime; for our population to replace itself without immigration, this number would have to increase to 2.1.

Why is Singapore’s fertility rate so low?

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According to Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs on Population, there are two driving forces behind the low fertility rate in Singapore. These are:

  • Longer-term changes in values and social norms, and
  • Short-term factors such as economic uncertainty

Is Singapore doomed as a nation?

Singapore’s falling fertility rate isn’t ideal, but on the bright side, we are experiencing other more positive population trends. For example, both the average number of citizen births and the average number of marriages (in the past five years) have risen.

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More specifically, Straits Times reports that between 2014 and 2018, 33,000 Singaporean babies were born each year on average. In the two preceding five-year periods, 31,400 and 32,000 Singaporean babies were born each year, on average.

As Josephine Teo notes, given the positive marriage trends, there could be an uptick in the total fertility rate when the children of the baby boomers start having babies themselves.

What is Singapore’s government currently doing to boost the fertility rate?

The government has put into place several measures to encourage more couples to have children. These include enhanced parental leave provisions, and flexible work arrangements (FWAs).

First and foremost, in an effort to provide working parents with stronger support networks, the government pushed out enhanced parental leave provisions a few years back.

Before 2017, it was only compulsory for companies to offer one week of paternity leave, but from 2017 onwards, all fathers would enjoy two weeks of paternity leave. Under the new guidelines, working mothers are also able to share up to four weeks of their paid maternity leave with their husbands.

On top of that, the government is also encouraging businesses to implement FWAs, which will provide couples with more flexibility and make it easier for them to start a family. Currently, approximately 53% of employers in Singapore offer at least one formal FWA, which is a slight increase from the 47% of employers who did so in 2014.

What else can the government do to increase Singapore’s fertility rate?

The enhanced parental leave provisions and increased FWAs are a start, but as several MPs have noted, there are other things that the government can do to raise the fertility rate.

According to Mr Ong Teng Koon of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, subsidising the cost of raising children is key. He suggests charging $10 a month for pre-school education, increasing subsidies for childcare and infant-care services, and providing subsidised school bus services.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak of Sembawang GRC concurs, calling for the government to establish free, pre-school programmes. While primary and secondary education is heavily subsidised in Singapore, pre-school programmes still remain pricey. According to the Straits Times, a four-hour kindergarten programme at a Ministry of Education facility costs $160 a month.

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