Singapore Aims for More Babies, Immigration
Mon Nov 29, 2004 09:49 AM ET
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore, facing a record-low birth rate and
an aging workforce, is aiming for a 40 percent rise in the number of
babies born a year following new pro-fertility steps designed to
rekindle the embers of romance.
Singapore's government was also looking at other ways to expand its
population, including increasing its foreign workers, said Junior
Finance Minister Lim Hwee Hua, a member of the government's "Working
Committee on Population."
Singapore is grappling with one of Asia's lowest birth rates, with
the number of babies born each year well below the 2.1 per woman
needed to replenish its population.
In an interview with Reuters, Lim said Singapore needed more babies
and more foreign workers to counter a rapidly aging workforce and to
fill jobs in service industries that will lead Singapore in a new era
of competition from China and India.
"We do need a critical mass," she said.
The size of that mass is a source of speculation.
Dianel Lian, Southeast Asian economist at Morgan Stanley, said in a
recent report that Singapore may be on the cusp of a monumental
policy shift that could lead to a doubling in its current population
of 4.2 million over the long term.
Lim declined to specify any target for the wealthy Southeast Asian
island's population but said there were merits in expanded
immigration, and that Singapore could physically handle the increase
that Lian envisaged.
"If you were to look at it from the capacity standpoint then we can
accommodate that. It may mean taller buildings, more intensive use of
land. I think from the capacity standpoint that is always possible,"
She said Singaporeans were already accustomed to immigration and
steady influxes of foreign workers.
"It's actually probably a little easier to get local Singaporeans
used to the idea of having nationals working alongside them. By and
large they would welcome, as long as the birth rate stays at that
level," she said.
FLAGGING BIRTH RATE, LIBIDO
Singapore's policymakers have struggled for years to reverse a
declining birth rate. Last year was the lowest on record, with
Singaporean women giving birth to 1.25 babies on average -- a
fraction of the 5.8 in the "baby-booming" 1960s.
Singapore is also accused of suffering from a flagging libido, ranked
for three straight years near the bottom of condom-maker Durex's
survey of sexually active nations.
Divorces are at a record high, while marriages fell 5 percent last
year and the proportion of childless couples has tripled since 1980,
to 6 percent of the population.
If current trends continue, by 2030 just 8 percent of Singapore's
population will be aged 15 to 24, according to the United Nations,
putting huge strains on a dwindling pool of youngsters to support the
economy and its aging workforce.
Lim said new policies unveiled in August -- including cash rewards
for couples who have babies and longer maternity leave for working
mothers -- may need fine tuning over the next few years, possibly to
include more leave for working fathers.
But Lim said the government had hoped the policies could push the
birth rate -- the average number of children born to a woman in her
lifetime -- to about 1.8, or 50,000 babies a year, up about 40
percent from last year's 36,000 babies.
"We are quite far below that," said Lim, one of two women in
Singapore's cabinet and mother of three.
© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.
By: Mellanie Hewlitt - Singapore Review
Date: Mon Feb 24, 2003 6:00 pm
Singapore Needs A Little Love and Compassion?
An amusing perception of the Singapore Procreation Process;
Everything runs like clockwork in squeaky clean, efficient little
Singapore. Well, almost everything at least. And what does the Ruling
Elite do if there is a problem in their neat tidy backyard? They
address it by way of laws, fines, taxes, imprisonments and law
suites, this after all is the PAP way. It has worked in the past and
it will always work in the future. But then again perhaps not.
The tiny city state and its ever paternalistic government have a
problem which cannot be solved by the usual cocktail of laws, fines,
litigation and campaigns. This problem is a highly personal one which
extends into the private bedrooms of its citizens. How does a well
meaning parent tell its usually compliant and obedient children
to "get on with it", to "make hay whilst the sun shines" and more
directly put, to "go forth, procreate, multiply and reproduce."?
Along with the status of a developed nation, Singapore has also
inherited its trade mark problems. Its population (particularly the
better educated and wealthier Chinese majority) is not replacing
itself and birth rates have been declining continously over the
years. And this is a problem which the paternalistic government
cannot address in its usual draconian style. No, you cannot impose a
fine, and neither can you pass a law to solve this sensitive issue.
And if left unaddressed, there is every potential that the little
city-state with its population of 4 million people will "develop"
itself to extinction.
The task is growing more urgent because the birth rate among
Singapore's four million people is falling steadily and now
languishes at 1.4 children per woman. That's below the 2.1
demographers say is necessary for a population to replace itself.
In the past, Singapore's ruling elite have approached the problem
with their usual efficiency and diligence, by way of campaigns and
policy implementations. Indeed, their attempt to play cupid had not
gone unnoticed and has been the source of much amusement (see
previous article attached below; "Government Promotes Unions Of Its
Best and Brightest; Soul Mates in 7 Minutes?", The Wallstreet
After several failed attempts, the "Powers that be" finally realized
that (at least for matters of the heart, and bedroom type activities)
they cannot point a gun to a person's head and mandate him/her to
kick start the domestic baby making factory. No Mr Lee, it does not
work this way, that's not how Adam and Eve started out, and that's
certainly not how the Good Lord created the universe.
Perhaps one reason for the government's dismal failures is the
overwhelming emphasis on academic qualifications and other "hard
factors". The government set-up two different social units to
encourage marriage amongst the younger generation. One for graduates
(SDU, Singapore's best and brightest?) and one for non-graduates
(SDS). The underlying message of cause was that new generation of
Singaporeans should choose their partners and marry within the
confines of their own designated Academic Caste System. Hence, it is
small wonder why many younger and more liberal minded Singaporeans
find this archaic medieval academic caste system highly objectionable
and terribly unromantic.
Many may also remember the infamous "Graduate Mother Scheme" which
the government tried to implement a decade ago. For those who are
unfamiliar, it would be best described as the PAP's way to implement
their version of the Laws of Un-Natural Selection, and propagate the
ruling elite's own twisted version of the theory of evolution.
Graduate couples were then given huge financial incentives and
support to have more children. The rationale being that children from
graduate couples were more likely to be intelligent and gifted. Of
cause the flip side of the equation logically implied that children
of non-graduate parents were total misfits and genetically inferior!
This measure of the worth of a human life (accessed solely on
academic merits) raised many questioning eyebrows, from graduates and
non-graduates alike. And it came as no surprise that the scheme was a
colossal failure, a heartening reflection that the Singapore
population still retained some semblance of independent thought and
dignity when it comes to matters of the heart at least
But aside from the colossal failures of the government sponsored
match making programs, a host of other factors account for the
declining birth rates. "Go forth and multiply" you say? Well that's
more easily said then done for the average couple in Singapore with
an average household income of approximately SGD3-4000/-. Unless you
are part of the ruling elite who take home a minimum net income of
SGD150,000/- per month (or SGD1.6 million per year), (the average pay
packet for a PAP minister), life is not easy in expensive little
The start-up costs for a new family can be staggering, with big
ticket items like a car and a house. Even a 1.6 Litre Japanese car
will cost at least SGD80,000/-, which is the equivalent of a decent 3
bedroom house in some countries. And a small 1,200 Sq Ft apartment
can set you back SGD1,000,000.- and more, depending on the locality
and tenor. What about government "subsidised" housing?
Well, "subsidised" housing here takes the form of HDB (Housing
Development Board) flats which will cost between SGD200,000 to
SGD400,000/-, the equivalent of a decent size house in Australia or
And the costs and expenses do not stop here. The government has also
imposed compulsory savings in the form of CPF (Central Provident
Fund), which is mandatory and ties up approx 20% of the monthly pay
of the citizens. There is no access to these funds until you reach
the retirement age of 55 years. And if you fall ill or need a
operation before this age, good luck matey you are on your own. Then
there are the other daily expenses like ERP (Electronic Road
Pricing), maid levies, GST, all of which is imposed in a city state
which is conspicuously bereft of any public welfare or unemployment
In short, staggering initial capital outlay required in starting a
family here, as well as increasing costs of living, have paved the
way for dual income households where both husband and wife typically
work 12 hour days just to make ends meet. And after a hectic work
day, there is little time left over for other more "romantic"
pastimes, let alone raising a child.
Even when there is an increase in marriage rates, there is no sure
sign that this would reverse the declining birth rates as the vast
majority of couples either opt not to have children, or in the event
they do, the wealthy and affluent class (which are most targeted by
the Singapore Government) have instead chosen to have children
abroad. One such individual was a banker (who requested to remain
anonymous) who stated that he would want his child to have a normal
and happy childhood, as opposed to the rigid, oppressive and highly
competitive pressure-cooked education system in Singapore. He took a
3 week holiday and arranged for his wife to give birth to their
bouncing baby boy in New York, so that the child had the rights and
benefits of US citizenship. And theirs is not an isolated case as
there are many who have opted for a better and easier life for their
children via this route.
Far from encouraging increasing birth-rates, a combination
of dismal government policies and "social engineering", and
unfavourable work and living conditions (for the locals) have
resulted in an exodus of the more affluent segments of the
population, further worsening an already bad situation.
At the end of the day, the act of procreation is highly intimate and
individualistic, very personal in nature. One really wonders if years
of repressive indoctrination have robbed the native populace of the
free will, independence and ability to rise to the occasion,
instilling an over-dependent, compliant and submissive culture which
is anti-thesis to the aggressive survival instinct that is crucial
But not withstanding the difficult and oppressive social and
financial environment moulded by the government, surely our fore
fathers and distant ancestors have faced greater challenges in the
past, and still managed to sow their royal oats and ensured the
continued existence of their bloodlines? So what's really missing in
Singapore's Procreation Equation? A liberal dose of good old
One can almost picture the look of uncomprehending horror on the
faces of the Ruling Elite. How preposterous, marry and procreate in
the name of love? But that would mean breaching the Academic Caste
System! GOOD HAVENS NO! We cant' have people running all over the
place, haphazardly falling in love and procreating, that's wrong!
That's not within the prescribed framework of the nicely laid out
plans Singapore's Ruling Elite had crafted for Singapore Inc.
But some would argue that "letting nature take its own natural
course" is a formulae that has worked for humanity in the last two to
five thousand years. Perhaps its high time some brave hearted martyr
ventures forth and informs the "Powers that be in Singapore" that
they should try a little bit of good old fashioned love (and throw in
the obligatory bouquet of roses) and compassion, if they wished to
Perhaps its also time for the overzealous parent to leave the
children some slack, they are all grown up and they have to figure
this one out for themselves. Alternatively, does anyone have the
recipe for Love Potion No 9. If you do, please mark it URGENT and
forward it to the PAP.
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