February 5, 2003
By Farah Abdul Rahim
All aboard the 'Love Boat'
SINGAPORE'S birth rate has fallen to a record low since 1988, when 52,000 babies were born. Since then, it has been a downward trend, with Singaporeans making fewer and fewer babies year after year.
Only 40,800 babies were born in 2002 - some 600 fewer than the year before.
And academics say the birth rate is set to fall even further.
The only times the birth rate went up, were in the Years of the Dragon - the favourite zodiac sign among the Chinese.
The horse is the next favoured sign.
But although last year was the Year of the Horse, it was not enough to overcome the reservations couples might have had over last year's poor economic conditions.
However, this may not be the only reason why fewer babies were born.
"A lot of women are working. We do encourage women to work. We have over 50 per cent of women in the workforce, and our female labour participation rate in Singapore is very high. And because women work - some of them fairly long hours - there's a tension between the time you spend with your children and the time you spend at work. And the cost of living in Singapore is quite high, and people also want high standards of living. So the material aspects come into play when you consider the opportunity cost, what it means for you to have children," said Assoc Prof Peggy Teo, a lecturer in the department of Geography at the National University of Singapore.
Despite years of campaigns and tax incentives - the latest being the Baby Bonus introduced in 2001 - Singaporeans are just not making enough babies to replace themselves.
On average, a couple needs to have 2.1 children to replace themselves.
But in 2002, Singaporean couples had only 1.4 children.
And Professor Teo says it could go down to 1, like in Hong Kong, where couples are having only one child.
She feels pro-family policies should look at caring for the elderly too.
"We are an ageing population. So you have children, and parents, that you'll have to consider. Given that we live in a patriarchal society, many of our women have to play the role of care-givers on both ends. This will become a more problematic situation for us in the long term. And this is perhaps something that the government can address," she added.
Aside from financial incentives, Professor Teo feels a less stressful environment for families should include better childcare and eldercare support, more pro-family workplaces, and a less stressful education system.