SINGAPORE: When Leon Chia and his wife got married at the age of 25, questions from friends and relatives about their plans for having kids began rolling in.
Seventeen years later, the couple - who does not have children - still gets asked the same thing.
This can get frustrating, said Mr Chia, adding: “I don’t think (having children) is something you must do in your life.”
The couple had not actively planned to have children when they were in their 20s, adding that they saw the marriage as “just the two of us, moving in together, living together and travelling”.
“As we went into our 30s, we realised we were enjoying our couplehood and we didn’t see ourselves having kids,” said Mr Chia, who is a teacher.
READ: Slowest decade of population growth in Singapore since independence: Census 2020
His wife also feared the childbearing process, and it did not help that raising a child would be a huge lifelong expense, said Mr Chia.
“I didn’t want to be tied down financially, where I have to be worrying about getting money, not just for myself but I have to think of an extra child.
"That’s a worry and I wouldn’t want to shortchange my kid or myself,” he said.
Mr Chia and his wife form part of the growing number of married couples in Singapore with no children.
Data from the latest census shows that among women who have ever been married, the proportion of those who have never had children has risen across all age brackets surveyed.
For instance, for women aged 40 to 49, the proportion of those who were childless grew from 9.3 per cent in 2010, to 13.5 per cent in 2020.
The statistic adds to Singapore’s population woes, alongside falling fertility rates, a rapidly ageing population and growing rates of singlehood among residents.
READ: Singapore's total fertility rate falls to historic low in 2020
There are a multitude of reasons for remaining childless, ranging from financial concerns to a preference for existing lifestyles, or even fertility issues as couples delay marriage.
At the core of many of these reasons is the priority given to work and making a living, said Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser from the sociology department at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
“For those in mid- to higher-level jobs, the driving force that makes people spend more time on work are key performance indicators (KPIs). You may have a day off or even leave to clear, but the expected deliverables remain.”
In addition, raising a child entails not just having someone to look after them, but also “being deeply involved in the child’s development, which could conflict with the priority of having to deliver on the KPIs”, said Assoc Prof Tan.
“I DON’T THINK I WILL REGRET IT”
Having to make a trade-off with one’s career is a big concern for women like Ms Tanya Pillay, 28, who works in corporate communications.
“If I was a mum, I wouldn’t have that peace of mind to go that far in my career, to be able to work until (late) - you can’t do that if you have a child.
“Women should be able to have both (children and a career). I believe it can be done - but perhaps not in Singapore,” said Ms Pillay, citing a general lack of workplace support for parents.
Her husband, who she married in 2019, also does not want kids.
Another reason for the decision is that the world can be an ugly place, she said.
“There is sexism, racism all around, workplace discrimination, inequality, so many evil things and social injustices that we are (seeing) every day.
“For us who are already on this earth, we do what we can … But it’d be so unfair to bring (a) child into this,” said Ms Pillay, who works in the non-profit sector.
READ: ‘Doing it for myself’: The women freezing their eggs to raise their chances of conceiving
“I would rather not even be in that situation, because you never know if you’re going to succeed or fail, and if the child will grow up with a bunch of trauma. The world is too complicated right now to bring a child into it.”
But she stressed that it is to each their own. “For those who really want children … I think it’s nice, like really good for them.”
And to critics who tell her she will be “missing out”, she said: “I just take it with a pinch of salt because they’re saying it from their point of view. I don’t think I will regret it.”
YOU CAN'T SAY: "I DON'T WANT TO DEAL WITH (THE CHILD) TODAY”
Ms Sherilynn Loh, 29, has also not been convinced by those telling her to have kids.
She and her husband have been married for half a year, but discussions on having children started long before – and both agreed that it is too large a responsibility to undertake.
“You can take a break from a job, like a sabbatical.
"But if you decide to have kids, you really can’t say: ‘I don’t want to deal with (the child) today’," said Ms Loh, who is an executive.
She added: “We also felt it was too much to handle with our current work, having to pay off the house, our education loans and taking care of our parents."
Similar to Ms Pillay, Ms Loh also said she does not want to bring children into a world when the outlook “is not great”.
“There’s the pandemic, there’s changes in air quality due to global warming, temperatures rising … And we don’t know what that’s going to look like 20 years from now.”
READ: Children risk 'generational catastrophe' from COVID-19: Rights group
Ms Loh caveated that while she does not want to have children now, she might feel differently in future. One thing that might change her mind is having more workplace support for parents.
“We have friends who are young parents, who don’t have work-life balance, even though they have childcare leave and so on.
“There’s also still expectations from work - like even though you’re just back from maternity leave, you must be performing at 90 to 100 per cent of where you were before. For fathers, you’re expected not to take leave for family issues and instead settle that on weekends or at night.”
She added that it would help if “in general, society was a bit more forgiving”.
“If you see young mothers and how they raise kids, or when they’re going into Primary 1 registration, it’s a nightmare … And it lasts until kids are somewhat adults.”
A TROUBLING TREND
Similar to what was highlighted by couples CNA spoke to, Assoc Prof Tan echoed that the cost of living and work-life balance are the most pressing issues that current government policies have yet to resolve.
“But more importantly, we need to prioritise child-rearing, and employers should rethink the way they evaluate the contribution of their staff members," he said.
Dr Tan Poh Lin, an assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy under NUS, said it was “quite troubling” to see the trend of more women remaining childless.
She explained that the motivations for having a first child are “generally understood” to be different from those for having subsequent children.
For instance, having a first child could stem from desires to experience parenthood, while having more kids could be to provide siblings, or have children of both genders.
The problem is that the first set of motivations “tends to be more intrinsic and less amenable to changes in circumstances, including policy initiatives”, she said
“What may be easier to tackle is to introduce more of a focus on encouraging earlier childbearing, to forestall cases of involuntary childlessness that result from delaying childbearing,” she added.