By Aloysius Chia
Mr Khaw Boon Wan, in an article in the Today newspaper (‘Couples now buy home first, marry later’ Today, 27 December 2013), mentioned how the social objectives guiding housing policies are to “encourage the young to get married and have children as soon as they wed”, and to “ensure procreation starts as early as possible”, so “let not housing be the reason for holding couples back” – that “these policies are showing results”.
It is not clear whether the policies he refers to are those that encourage young couples to have children, or whether he is pointing to the Parenthood Priority Scheme (PPS), which gives priority to couples-to-wed in public housing. Both can be used interchangeably as ‘family-encouragement’ policies.
But what he has failed to mention is how housing is only one factor why couples have children.
From 2000 to 2012, the total fertility rate per woman decreased from 1.6 to 1.2 (Singstats). In 2012, it went up to 1.29, as a result of the Dragon Year, which always sees an increase in the number of births.
Clearly there are other factors affecting why young couples have children.
According to a paper produced by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) in 2012, which calculated the overall estimate a middle-class family of 2 may receive government support, it estimates the total to be $142,000 until both children turn 7.
It may seem like a lot of money in total but if one breaks it down, it is actually quite mediocre. Per child per month, this works out to about $493.
If one considers the costs of childcare, pre-primary school preparation, healthcare and food and clothing costs, this covers only a small proportion of other more intangible, incalculable costs, such as the time needed to be spent on a child and leave needed to take beyond maternity/paternity leave in order to support the child.
In fact, in a Marriage and Parenthood study done in 2012, 73% of married respondents cited financial cost as the main reason not to have more children.
Given that public housing is only one element in a confluence of other factors, it could almost be said that using it as means to promote births is rhetoric.
It is simply a way of relegating both the responsibility of childbearing and its increasing costs to families, because doing so will reduce the burden the state has to bear for it.
It is also another way to put more blame on families that are not doing well, because emphasizing the family can give the impression that not so well off families are not doing anything to help themselves.
What there exists in actual reality is not what it seems to be. Constantly emphasizing the family will not change the fact that there are numerous other changes that has fundamentally shifted why couples decide to have children.
These changes include rising costs of living that makes it impossible to raise a child without both parents working; the increasing pressure that one has to keep up with being middle class; the emphasis on growth at all costs; changing perceptions of the self in relation to traditions, and other factors which are, directly or indirectly, caused by the policies of the past few decades.
It is a result of thinking that repeatedly emphasizing the family to ensure that there is more responsibility will definitely result in the outcomes assumed, which will lead to more couples marrying and having children and consequently, contributing to the economy.
Evidently, this is not the case, and the core of the issue has not been addressed.
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