Your Letters

Weigh pros and cons of parenthood policies carefully

 Zelene Kang playing with her father Daniel Kang and mother Jeslin Teo.
Zelene Kang playing with her father Daniel Kang and mother Jeslin Teo. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

We have to be careful about what we take away from Denmark's fertility boosting measures ("5 areas to help the stork deliver"; last Sunday).

Denmark's total fertility rate (TFR) was 1.7 in 2014, compared with Singapore's 1.25. But the report said that "while about 3 per cent of children in Singapore are born outside marriage, in Denmark, more than half are".

Scandinavian nations have very high ratios of babies born outside marriage, partly due to the very generous welfare offered to single mothers. In Denmark, a single mother's allowance could match a worker's salary.

Only when babies who are born outside marriage are excluded will we be able to see how high Denmark's fertility rate among married couples is.

We should also be careful about linking Denmark's generous paternity leave policy to boosting births. Remember, half of the women there are willing to have babies without husbands.

Also, people there enjoy so many conducive conditions for raising children, such as flexible work arrangements, shorter working hours, better work-life balance, a wide range of subsidised daycare and other childcare services, and heavily subsidised education.

So, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to identify and measure the impact of paternity leave in boosting births there.

We must also weigh the serious downsides of the Scandinavian model. The Danes have to pay half of their salaries to finance the welfare system.

Some experts say the Danish welfare system is too oriented towards raising babies at the expense of taking care of the aged. They also wonder whether the system is sustainable in the long term.

No Asian nation is ready to boost its fertility rate by promoting more non-marital births.

The big question we should ask ourselves is: How many of our married couples aspire to have two or three babies? If this is not their dream, it would be extremely difficult to increase our TFR.

If we increase our Marriage and Parenthood Package by another $400 million a year, or about 20 per cent more, how many more babies would be born?

If existing mindsets remain unchanged, and if we do nothing, our TFR will likely slip over time.

Ng Ya Ken

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline 'YourLetters Weigh pros and cons of parenthood policies carefully'. Print Edition | Subscribe