A help package to boost birth rate out next year
This is the front page headline on Straits Times over the weekend.
Singapore is known to have one of the lowest fertility rate in the world. Accordingly to United Nations list, we ranked 194 out of 197 sovereign countries. Not a statistic that a nation should be proud of.
It is so alarming that the government had decided that a help package is necessary to boost the fertility rate to 1.4 ( which incidentally is rank 180 out of 197)
There are many proposals on how to boost birth rates. However a few important issues were overlook. This include the number of marriages as well as divorce rates in Singapore. Singapore marriages was in its historical low in 2010. Moreover Singaporeans are marrying at a later age, thus limiting the fertility period of a couple. Incidentally divorce rates is ranked 16th in the world(nationmaster) . The net new family units is at approximately 20000 per year. With a 'dry up ' supply of the family unit, it would be an uphill task in boosting the fertility rate as it is in essence an issue of no 'production factories' no babies.
Another statistic that pop out will be the fact that Singapore is the 2nd most densely populated country in the world. We have approximately 6802 ( CIA world Factbook 2011)people per square km. To give a visual, if you line up all 6802 in a square and assuming each needs a meter worth of space to be comfortable, you have to stack 7 person on top of each other in order to fit in! ( hopefully my mathematics is applied correctly here...)
To add on to the statistics , Singapore is the world's 6th most expensive city to live in (2012 mercer survey). With soaring property prices ( where a million dollar public housing a reality in the secondary market ) and rising cost of living, it is no surprise that cost can be an issue for family planning. A public house at $1 million, would take a family with an income ceiling of $10000 ( according to hdb rules) at a comfortable debt servicing ratio of 30% a whopping 28 years to be fully paid at 0% interest ( assuming full loan at $1 million). The tenure will go up if interest is adjusted upwards. This is an extreme case in public housing. Public housing from the primary markets are still acceptable. However given that this scenario already exist, the thought of it could put many off prioritising having children as top priority vs the need to make ends meet.
The mentality of Singapore needs to be re-tuned. Long are we accustomed to being kiasu, a prominent Singaporean trademark. In some instances, we look upon wealth and material belongings as a status symbols. As such we tend to put self and work before family ( I for one was guilty as charged, only deciding to start a family in my thirties while the twenties was a period of rat racing and career building )
In addition kiasuism extends to the competitive nature of children education in Singapore. This indirectly affect family planning as it leads to additional stress and cost to the parents ( in terms of the must- do enrichment courses to keep up with the Joneses) Bottom line , it is not a magnet for desire for more children.
Regardless what what is said about passion and joy about family life, a parent would also want what is best for a child. Passion alone cannot put food on the table. Joy cannot ease the moral and financial obligations of raising a child.
The issues on hand that need to be address are
- Increasing marriage or encourage earlier marriage.
- Addressing the breakdown of a family unit.
- Rethink the space constraint with more innovative ideas ( such as taller buildings, better use of land, facilities for residents such as child care centres ) . If land ( facilities) is limited, how can we encourage more births to justify the need?
- Reassess the financial aspect of parenting. Give incentives for housing for families with kids and those intending to start a family. Give subsidiaries for employing a helper ( we could start by removing the existing levies altogether). Consider subsidiaries for Coe for cars for families ( since they would be the one who may need it the most) Extend working mother tax break to working father as well ( given that both would most likely contribute to the household as well as supporting their parents) . These may eat into our reserves, but if we are genuine about raising the fertility rate, we should consider all options possible. Better to start the programme with a bang rather than a whimper.
- Focus on the issues of parenting . Issues such as a good work life balance, paternity leave and education for children(starting from as early as preschool)
We will know the answer on January 2013.
( A humble monologue at National Conversation)