Are they really fixing the birth rate problem?

How shocking, our birth rate just dipped slightly!

You can blame the recession or people having to work harder (are you serious?), but as I’ve been insisting for the past few years, it’s because the Gahmen’s attempts at improving the birth rates are pressing the wrong buttons

Read the ST story first and my bits after:

Birth rate may dip further: Experts 

Continued economic uncertainty and Govt’s drive to raise labour productivity cited as reasons

By Kor Kian Beng

NEWS that 170 fewer babies were registered here last year worries sociologist Paulin Tay Straughan, who predicts that the numbers could dip again this year.

She cited two key reasons why she believes this will be the case: continued uncertainty over the economy and the Government’s drive to raise labour productivity.

Said Associate Professor Straughan, who is a Nominated MP: ‘When you are riding a rising tide, people would want to work harder in case the economy dips again. I don’t think numbers will go back up this year.’

The Government’s productivity drive could drive birth numbers down too, she told The Straits Times yesterday.

Leaders, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, have spoken this week about the importance of raising flagging labour productivity rates here.

Said Prof Straughan: ‘I think the emphasis on productivity will overshadow work-life balance and the needs of the family. We all know the constraints, and with the contesting demand that work places on your time, investment in the family may have to take a back seat.’

Productivity growth is usually considered critical to improving living standards. It means getting more value from each worker, resulting in more income being available to be distributed.

Prof Straughan’s concerns were piqued by latest birth figures revealed by PM Lee at an event on Monday.

Speaking at a conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), he revealed that Singapore had fewer babies for the first time in five years. The number of births fell by 172 last year to 39,654 when compared with the 39,826 babies in 2008. The reason could be last year’s recession, Mr Lee said.

The dip indicates that Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR) has dropped further. Singapore’s TFR was last reported to be 1.29. A society needs a rate of at least 2.1 to replace itself.

Assistant Professor Chung Wai Keung, a sociologist at the Singapore Management University, agrees there could be another dip in the birth rate this year. He said this would be in line with the declining trend seen over the years since the 1980s.

‘However, as a long-term trend, I don’t foresee a big dip because it will never happen like that. Future birth rates will likely fluctuate within a limited range but in a decreasing trend,’ he said.

But Dr Yap Mui Teng, a demographer and fertility expert at the IPS, sees it differently.

She predicts an improvement in the birth rate this year and pointed to the brighter outlook for the economy as a reason. ‘People may be encouraged to have babies, particularly if they had postponed parenthood last year.’

But she said that any spike this year may be tempered by the effect of the ‘Tiger Year’. The Chinese are traditionally less keen to have babies under this zodiac sign of the lunar calendar, believing that children would grow up to be rebellious, ill tempered and unpredictable.

To encourage Singaporeans to marry and start families, the Government has rolled out a host of measures, such as cash incentives to defray child-rearing costs, infant-care leave and subsidies, and longer maternity leave.

Dr Chung said the dip showed that Baby Bonus measures introduced since 2001 were not working well because’raising children was never about these short-term or one-time economic incentives’.

He suggested looking at other measures such as longer parental leave, including for the father, and better sustained institutional support for raising children.

Agreeing, Prof Straughan said the Government needed to put in more effort to find out from Singaporeans what it would take to encourage them to have babies.

She said: ‘It cannot be money because no government can pay for babies.’

But Dr Yap said it might be too premature to dismiss the Government’s enhanced Marriage and Parenthood package as ineffective as it was announced just one month before the global financial crisis hit in September 2008.

However, changes will have to be made or new measures introduced over time in areas such as childcare subsidies and flexi-work arrangements for back-to work mothers, she added.

IMHO, our birth rate is declining because of the following key issues:

Our society is increasingly self-centered and focused on material aspirations. Why spend money on raising kids when we can buy a nice new car?

The Baby Bonus policies are focused on women and we guys are merely an afterthought. This is wrong in the modern age when men play a big role in their children’s upbringing.

The stressful education system, and the parents that both complain and encourage it, turn people off having kids. It’s stressful enough to work, what more try to solve the crazy PSLE problem sums when you get home. The silly thing is – we NEVER have to solve such problem sums in real life.

Singaporeans are brought up to believe that you need to have dual income to have a family. But a double-income risks producing latchkey kids. So some people rather not raise kids that will treat their maids as slaves or mothers.

Dear policymakers, if you really want to improve the birth rate, stop looking at the numbers and ask how you can use money to improve the situation. That might work if you’re raising cattle or rearing koi fishes.

What are you really doing to tackle the four issues I’ve penned down above?

Like Prof Straughn says, the Gahmen needs to put in more effort to understand the problem and find the solution. I hope the policymakers don’t just fall back on the excuse that this is a common trend in the developing world, and continue to burn through our tax dollars to drive minimal or negative results in this area.

I don’t mind paying taxes for nation-building, but I demand good results, dammit.

(If we get really desperate, I can also suggest a sure-win solution – Ban Contraception. I’m sure the Catholics will support me on this) 

And honestly, because my kids are now turning 7 and 5 this year, I’m less aggrieved over this whole Baby Bonus problem than I was when the kids were babies. Back then, I was so upset that I had to endure all sorts of rubbish (long working hours in a typical Singaporean company, going back for National Service or training for IPPT, 2 or 3-day paternity leave) and yet I knew I had to play an active role in bringing the kids up.

But I resist apathy, and that’s why I continue to put my thoughts down on this website.

Here are my earlier posts on the same topic:

Of course the Baby Bonus didn’t work

Paying the price with no regrets

Once again, fathers do not exist in SG

3 Replies to “Are they really fixing the birth rate problem?”

  1. An attention-grabbing dialogue is value comment. I feel that you need to write more on this matter, it may not be a taboo subject but typically persons are not sufficient to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

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