Last year, the number of babies born in Singapore dropped to an 8-year low of 39,039 births, about 1.5% lower than in 2017 according to the Report on Registration of Births and Deaths in 2018 by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA). In the same year, the number of deaths increased by 1.8% from 2017 to 21,282 in 2018.
Singapore’s ageing population means that deaths have been increasing gradually since 1998. Conversely, the country’s total fertility rate (TFR) has stayed below the replacement level of 2.1, and falling each year.
This troubling issue has been raised in Parliament back in Nov 2018, where Member of Parliament Ms Cheng Li Hui asked the Prime Minister about Singapore’s declining fertility rate and whether it was a concern to the government that the figure has fallen to 1.16 in 2017.
Answering on behalf of the PM, then-Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the government takes the issue seriously as persistently low TFR can have ‘far-reaching implications on our economy and society’.
In his written reply, Mr Teo said that the decline in TFR in recent years could be partly due to a demographic shift. In particular, the children of the ‘baby boomer’ generation are only just entering peak childbearing age of 25-39. However, many of them are not married yet and haven’t started having children.
Citing survey results that show a vast majority of Singaporean’s wanting to marry and have children, Mr Teo said that some may decide to delay parenthood in order to fulfil other aspirations like establishing a career or travelling the world first.
On the question of whether the Government’s pronatalist policies have been working, Mr Teo didn’t quite answer the question. Instead, he outlined the policies the Singapore government has adopted such as the Marriage and Parenthood (M&P Package), childcare subsidies, and the Work-Life grant which encourages companies to adopt family-friendly policies.
Mr Teo also noted the move to make the second week of Paternity Leave mandatory and increasing the Shared Parental leave from one week to four weeks. All in the hopes of fostering a stronger culture of shared parental responsibility.
On top of that, there are also policies designed to address concerns about the cost of raising children such as the Baby Bonus Cash Gift, Child Development Account, and MediSave Grant for Newborns.
Mr Teo added, “We also understand that many couples aspire to own their homes before they start a family. HDB has worked to provide couples with faster access to housing.”
He continued, “Together with our heavily subsidised education, public housing, and healthcare systems, these measures in our M&P Package seek to provide strong support for those who decide to marry and have children. We will continue to study ways to better strengthen this support.”
Ms Cheng’s third question was on whether further measures are necessary or are being considered by the Government to arrest the decline in TFR and to raise it in the long term.
To this, Mr Teo said “We are mindful that no silver bullet or single policy intervention alone will boost birth rates. As the experiences of other East Asian societies (e.g. South Korea) have shown, encouraging couples to have children requires more than a package of support measures. For a decisive increase in our TFR over the longer term, mindset shifts among couples and the support of the whole of society are critical.”
He emphasised the need to continue encouraging young Singaporeans “not just to value but to prioritise marriage and parenthood as important life goals”.