Why would people want to have kids in Singapore?

This posting was published in Today newspaper 14 Aug 2012 under the headline “For babies, redefine happiness”.

Back in the 2000s, each time my wife gave birth, my friends would joke “Hey the Baby Bonus worked!” We had a good laugh, because it was very clear to my social circle that the Government’s fertility policies had nothing to do with our decision to have children.

As the years went by, we rolled our eyes at the hundreds of millions of tax dollars being poured into the Baby Bonus scheme without any significant result.

Now, of my close friends who are married today, the majority of them have at least two children. What’s even more interesting is that like me, quite a few of my friends are sole breadwinners, with their wives choosing to give up their careers to ensure the kids are well-looked after. We made the decision with our wives even when it didn’t seem like our paychecks could support it.

But recently, whenever we young dads have lunch together, we no longer bring up the joy of parenthood that lit up our lives when our children were cute babies and toddlers.

These days, we talk about the woes we are going through with the primary school education system, corrupted by unrealistic standards and “kiasu” parents. We debate about whether we should stop stressing ourselves out trying to figure out today’s education requirements, and just hand our kids over to the mercy of the tuition centers.

We sigh about the rising cost of living, about how it will be difficult to ferry our kids around once we can no longer afford the Certificate of Entitlement for cars. Public transport may be an option but we feel sorry for parents who have to bring young babies into a crowded train.

We wonder how our children will ever be able to afford their first public housing with the current trajectory of inflation and property prices.

We worry about our children’s future, where their desire to live out their passions may be inevitably snuffed out by the local economy’s bias towards the lucrative finance sector.

We discuss our own work-life balances, and ask ourselves what happens to the family if the sole breadwinners among us lose our jobs or our health.

The most depressing topic is how our children lack the time to enjoy their childhood. Not because we force them to go enrichment classes or do a lot of assessment books (we don’t), but because it is the state of things today in this pressure cooker society.

I am heartened by the recent news of the Government bringing together different ministries to tackle the issue of the low birthrate in Singapore. The undeniable failure of the Baby Bonus scheme has demonstrated that throwing money at one aspect of the problem (subsidizing the cost of upbringing) is not going to work.

What will work, is for the government and citizenry to first recognize that Singapore is increasingly becoming an unhappy place to stay in, with the relentless pursuit of wealth, materialism and a myopic definition of success.

For too long, young people in this country have been led to believe that happiness would come with a lot of money, a condo (nevermind the location), an expensive car and many vacations to exotic locations.

Many who cannot truly afford it, decide to take huge loans to finance that dream.

If that is how happiness is defined, why would people want to give it all up to go for a lifelong commitment called parenthood?

19 Replies to “Why would people want to have kids in Singapore?”

  1. Thanks for the post. I totally second your opinions and perhaps this is the reason why I am moving overseas for work since there are no added advantages being a Singaporean and working here.

    Singapore is really becoming an expensive hotel destination where I check in to see my family and friends shortly only during vacation. It is beyond imagination for the cost of housing and system which every Singaporeans are put thru.

    I hope it would change for the better. But at current rate, I wouldnt place too much of a hope in it.

  2. It is very true that part about using the car for the children. Easily, fully half if not more, of my car usage is for the children. The early morning hassle even with a car to take them to school is routine to spare them the hassle of train and bus rides to get to school. Than there is the CCA that often take them up to late at night, even up to 11 pm, to finish and as parents we are obliged to bring them hope ASAP sparing them the hassle of train rides that can take them another hour to get home. Often they have to be fed ‘on wheels’ meaning we bring them dinner that they can eat in the car on the way home. That’s how late some of the schools’ activities can be. You are also right about the loss of use of the car when we can no longer afford the COE even to keep the existing car. It comes at a time when you need the car most in your twilight years with frailties like a bad knee and medical appointments to keep. Making laws are easy when you refuse to consider the impact on the man in the street. Govt subsidies for making babies cover not even a thousandth of the cost parents would have to bear to have and bring up a child.

  3. Agreed. These are all the RIGHT and ACTUAL reasons for the low birth rate in Singapore. Perhaps you could submit this to the Committee set up to study this problem. Will save them much time and effort on their investigative and deliberation process for answers that we already know.

  4. I think you have hit the nail on the head. I also like the way you have shared with us all the trials and tribulations of parenthood. I understand as I am a father of triplet boys myself. I think about them often. As I am separated from them due to work commitments abroad. So I can relate to this post in more ways than I can possibly elaborate.

    Thanks for the fish

    Darkness 2012

  5. I think it is up to parents to decide how much they want to join the education rat race. Many seem to have this view that if their kid score top grades and go to top schools, then their kid is assured of a good life. Nothing can be further from the truth. Greatness comes from hard work, persevence and character; these can only come from the person. No amount of parental pushing is going to do otherwise.


  6. Sorry dude to burst your bubble… the government as I can recall since the 2nd guard took over is mostly talk. Your kid and your family lifestyle and dreams as a Singaporean, you can kiss goodbye. As long as the money flows into their coffers, we are just mere digits.

    I have a daughter and I dread the day when she has to start working in Singapore and start a family. I’d strongly suggest migration because I do not see any change unless the government itself change.

    I have left Singapore >5+ years back. Now that I’m back, the only things I have seen changed are the building and infrastructure landscape, and the influx of foreigners (I feel like a bloody minority in my homeland!). The polices are worse than ever and the batch of new ministers are quite clueless to the real situation on the ground.

    1. I am a middle-class father with 2 kids, 11 and 6.
      I second your suggestion about re-location overseas.
      If my kids have the chance to move, don’t think I will persuade them to stay.
      Projections down the road:
      – $ 500,000 minimum for the small HDB
      – $150,000 for a small car
      – $1000 per month on tuition class ( a must just to keep report books in the black)
      – Overcrowded island with little room unless pay $$$ for overseas tours
      – Overeducated Singaporeans with fewer job prospects and stagnant pay
      No let off …

      1. Bro, don’t waste time. Just do it. If you can move now, do it. I have already migrated but came back due to family reasons. But I will be returning to Australia soon.

  7. Folks, not everyone has the ability to leave the country and start afresh. Or jump into another frying pan. I would say, let’s do our part to give good and constructive feedback to the authorities on the multitude of factors, and hope they do their best to solve the issues. And in the meantime, also encourage your friends and families to do something about what they’re not happy with, rather than just sharing our thoughts.


  8. In a small, prosperous, ultra-modern, safe, efficiently-governed and well-organised city-state, what is the excuse for not having things set-up so that nobody should feel that they need to ferry their children around by car? Especially since I suspect that the majority of the population (i.e. non-middle-class people) do not have the means to do so.

    1. When I was in NTU from 1997-2001, it took me 1.5hrs just to get to campus on public transport, no matter which combination of train and bus I tried. So I travelled about 3 hrs each day. Things haven’t changed much today. We might be a small island, but our transport system is far from efficient.

  9. I agree with Ian. Not everyone gets a chance to leave. Just have to work with what you have.. and hopefully change the governing system over time. We keep forgetting that Singapore is a young nation and has scope to improve. Unless Singaporeans speak up or dare to challenge with the possibility of personal expense, change will be very slow. Anyway…. I think the Singaporean woe is typical of any developed city living (look at NY, Tokyo, Sydney etc)… they all face the same problems – small and expensive accommodation, heavy traffic. Difference being in the US / Japan, you can always op to move out into the country… which is not an option in Singapore. They have better weather which makes a lot of difference in cultivating ones patience! Also the whole world is globalising. Eventually, we have to accept Singapore as a migrant country. Look at LA for example, 60% are hispanic! Australia is strongly dependent on migrants too.

    On the bright side, the public education system in Singapore is cheap and relatively good (putting aside that it’s pressurising and lacks creativity) . I am residing in Australia. Not to say the public schools are bad (there are good ones) but private school students tend to do better academically. The cost of private schooling here varies so much. From $500 a month to $2000 a month (generally, the higher the price, the better the facilities, the academic results, university entrance rates,etc) Our son attends a school which cost $1000 per month for primary 1 which creeps up to $1700 a month for high school. His school is ranked 4th in the state, has their own swimming pool, tennis courts, etc. It was a hard decision for us when we had to decide on the school. We could have gone for one which didn’t cost as much.. but felt we owed it to him to have a better start in life since we can afford it. Spend it on him or spend it on ourselves .. was the question.

    Public school cost are not even worth mentioning (almost next to nothing…just have to pay for books, uniform etc). One gets in depending on where you live and the intake increases base on the need of the suburb in that cohort (no balloting thank you!).

    I was lamenting to a friend back in Singapore about the cost of fees here compared to Singapore. The process of getting into a school in Singapore is tough but once in , its relatively cheap and with regards to tuition cost.. its a matter of either teaching them ourselves and not feeling pressured to keep up with the Jones (perhaps its easy for me to say that being so far away).

    I honestly think the educational system works well to give the kids the fundamentals but I agree it’s too pressurised and it needs to de-emphasize on academic success.. 12 years of pressure … just to get into Uni which we know doesn’t always translate into a higher level of success in jobs/life (I know plenty of polygrads or open U grads who are doing better than NTU/NUS grads).

  10. I share the frustrations of the older generation who gave their lives to the this government, wholeheartedly believing in a good retirement after all the slogging they went thru. however, how much is true today? how many ppl actually saw the fruit of their hard work? I’ll bluntly say that most would be lamenting that they have been denied to their CPF savings.

    On 1 hand, we could say that the govt has its ppl’s interest at heart, realising that most will not be able to survive on their limited savings, on the other, 1 could see it as all the govt ever cares about is the country’s economical success at the expense of its ppl.

    I’m a parent myself, with tons of worry abt my daughter’s future in this country and whether I would end up as her burden than anything else. I’m afraid she would be brainwashed by the mainstream media to chase for luxuries instead of what’s worth of her money

    I’ll be teaching her financial literacy the moment she goes to school, hoping that it would help her manage her own finances better when she grows up. I do hope our schools will include such topics into the syllabus too.

    Hoping the govt would react to the feedbacks? I’d remain skeptical to this, for the longest time, our govt has been dismissing ppl’s voice and run as they will, be it the multi million ministers, foreigners issue, babies, retirement, govt spending, even right up to the recent doctor who was fined a mere 1k for cheating traffic offences disregarding integrity issues as a doctor. A better life is what they promised since ancient times, but when I get to know that only a mere 20% of the population can likely retire properly, the aforementioned better life becomes highly questionable.

    So rather than hoping the govt could and would do something, it’ll be better for all of us to start thinking what we really want realistically 20yrs down and start working on it.

  11. @ GB : We keep forgetting that Singapore is a young nation and has scope to improve. Unless Singaporeans speak up or dare to challenge with the possibility of personal expense, change will be very slow.

    Unfortunately Sgpreans have been so well brainwashed that they believe they are NOTHING without the PAP. Every sgprean is jsut to meek and afraid to speak up (except for a few brave ones online, and very soon these voices will be silenced as well, soon the ‘consultation’ on the internet code of conduct will become legally enforceable to ensure ‘harmony’ amongst sgpreans. ) .

    I was away for 7 years and it is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, I was really proud of my country. I am now embaressed to say that I used to brag abt my country’s sound govt policies to my frds who come from countries with corupted govt etc. Having been back for 2 years I realise there is no future here. The future of Sgp belongs only to the extremely well off and the foreigners , if you are middle income and can afford to leave . I strongly advise you to. There will only be more foreigners to take you chidlren’s job, 500 sq ft million dollar apts, 500k 3-room govt subsidised HDB flats, retirement in JB and possibly medical as well! And be prepared to choke on the self-serving policies that G will continue to shove down your throats !

    Au revoir Singapore! I am grateful to the PAP though for providing me with an education that makes it easy for me to pack up and migrate.

  12. I can hear the rants of SG-ians all the way to the Tasman sea. I think we all feel your pain. However I am in agreement with Kaffein and Goodbye. If you are lusting after a better quality of life, SG will be limited. You just have to take whatever comes and be contented.

    Yes, you can join in PM’s “national conversation”, but a wise friend told me once “politics is not about right or wrong, its about who wins”. So, IMO, its better to change oneself than to change others.

    We can thank SG for providing us with a good education. If one is resourceful, moving elsewhere may not be jumping into a frying pan. Fear of failure maybe? But you won’t know unless you try. Bearing in mind that there will always be pros and cons elsewhere.

  13. You are fatastic! I am not from Singapour but feel you say the best! If they can understand you things will change!

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