Implications of falling birth rate need studying

The causes and implications of our falling birth rate deserve more in-depth and open discussion.

We should examine every cause in detail and come up with measures to deal with every implication.

Japan's birth rate has been falling below the replacement level since the mid-1970s, but it has refused to use immigration to boost the population.

It has been projected that there would be 20 million empty houses in Japan 15 years from now, and that by 2040 most of the smaller cities' populations would drop by between one-third and one-half.

Experts describe the devastating depopulation as "demographic suicide". Europe now fears "demographic suicide" is happening there. Birth rate free-fall is now most visible in poorer nations such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.

With Singapore's total fertility rate hovering at 1.1 to 1.2, we are in the same risky situation as Japan and Europe.

Thanks to our immigration policy, "demographic suicide" may not happen here. But we should pay attention to the severe implications of the falling birth rate.

Our family institutions and our societal safety net are weakening. We must regularly review whether existing measures are sufficient and effective to ensure our family values and social fabric will prevail and thrive. It is a complex issue, encompassing the education system, values taught to children, work-life balance, and assistance given to support child bearing.

A large influx of immigrants can upset the racial balance. What can we do to integrate all new arrivals better into our society?

The number of senior citizens will continue to increase in the future. With many of them having only one child or no children , the Government's share of the responsibility of looking after them would increase tremendously. We must think of measures to attract more volunteers to help shoulder the responsibility.

The tasks of tackling the implications of our falling birth rate need the full support of and contributions from all people here. The Government should lead the discussion and champion new measures to tackle them.

Albert Ng Ya Ken

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2018, with the headline 'Implications of falling birth rate need studying'. Print Edition | Subscribe