The Straits Times says

When life choices are left to chance

It is a matter of social relief that 83 per cent of singles surveyed, aged 21 to 35 years, indicate that they intend to marry. On closer look, however, 59 per cent of singles surveyed are not currently dating seriously with a view to getting married, and 41 per cent have never dated seriously before. Among the singles not dating seriously, four out of 10 prefer to leave matters of the heart to chance.

These findings, released by the National Population and Talent Division from its Marriage and Parenthood survey, reveal a mixed picture of attitudes. Clearly, there is an overall, conservative preference for marriage as the normal state of personal life. That attitude is buttressed by the findings which show that most married couples prefer to have two or more children.

Thus, the idea that marriage is the building block of the family, which in turn lays the foundation of social longevity, would appear to be entrenched among Singaporeans. This is a valuable mindset, given how disruptions and discontinuities in social attitudes to love and marriage can impose a terrible price on societies. Absentee fatherhood and irresponsible motherhood, evident in some societies, can produce such dysfunctional families as to put people off marriage entirely. Yet, this is not an answer unless people opt out of the very logic of reproduction that sustains families and societies. And if they do, they would not be able to escape the personal consequences of ageing lonely and unwanted, or barely tolerated, in societies in demographic decline.

No matter how comprehensive a state's social security apparatus is, it cannot compensate for the absence of children who are bound to parents by personal ties of care and affection. In an ageing society with a small population base, the demographic outlook imbues an individual's future with an immediacy that should not be ignored.

Certainly, marriage is a personal choice. Indeed, it perhaps is the most personal decision that a human can take. However, society owes it to its own survival to encourage - and facilitate - people to marry and have children while they are young. There will never be the complete fulfilment of personal expectations and impersonal hopes like an ever-expanding economy and global stability. However, to postpone marriage and children is to incur the risk of wanting children biologically too late in the day. That could lead to heartbreak.

Singapore has an array of family-friendly policies. These can be refined to suit the evolving expectations of the young. The private sector should enhance its contribution to the national effort by offering flexible work arrangements that make it possible for mothers in particular to balance the demands of holding a job and caring for the family. Singapore's demographic future requires social and workplace norms to reflect the urgency of society reproducing itself.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2017, with the headline 'When life choices are left to chance'. Print Edition | Subscribe