SINGAPORE: Singapore’s total fertility rate has been well below the replacement level since 1977 and shows no sign of picking up, raising red flags for some about the future of the economy.
This has led some like Jason Ng, a father of two teens, to think of giving birth as a duty to country.
Speaking at a Talking Point forum on population and fertility, the childhood educator said: “I do really see having children as a national service (that) we need to do because we have a shrinking population ... just not enough people.”
But childless participants at the forum, which airs on Thursday (Jan 5) at 9.30pm on Mediacorp Channel 5, disagreed.
“If I have to do something, then I should get compensation in return,” said Chong Ning Qian, a research executive at the Association of Women for Action and Research. “Caregiving is hard work, not just for children (but) for your elderly parents as well. It is work that needs to be valued and needs to be paid for in some form, so I’m not going to do it for free.”
Watch: An excerpt of the debate
In his early 20s and recently engaged, Eric Tan thinks Singapore is not a country of family-oriented people.
“We saw ourselves growing up as individual people who aspire to a certain level of progress,” he said. And while many may aspire to get married, “I think it would stop there”, he added. “You could have all the childcare centres you want, but (having children is) never going to be a lifestyle choice that’s at the top of the mind for us.”
His fiancee, Cherylyn Wee, finds it difficult to balance career advancement and children in Singapore. If forced to choose between them, she said: “Then it takes me a much longer time to think about whether I could really give my best to the child but also give myself the life that I think I deserve.”
The perceived high cost of raising a child here, as well as the lack of work-life balance, were also cited as reasons why couples do not have more children.
But Marcus Lian, father of a young daughter, believes the decision should be driven by emotion, not rational considerations. “When we start thinking of it very logically, it scares us away from having kids,” he said.
Economist Walter Theseira, from SIM University, meanwhile, questioned the assumption that Singapore’s economy would not survive if the fertility rate fell further.
“Even though the quantity of manpower might be going down in the future, we’re going to compensate for that by having better quality manpower,” he said. “We’re having fewer kids, but that means we’re putting more and more into each child.”
He added: “Singaporeans tomorrow are going to be much better equipped to deal with the new economy than we are or our forefathers were. So there’s no simple answer to this, but I’m not so pessimistic.”
The full discussion on Talking Point on Thursday (Jan 5), 9.30pm on Mediacorp Channel 5.