IPS Survey: Look at women's needs to boost birth rate

Women need more than traditional incentives to have babies
Women need more than traditional incentives to have babiesPHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Carrots like the Baby Bonus cash gift and more maternity leave are seeing diminishing returns in boosting Singapore's abysmal birth rate, shows a new study.

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS)'s poll of 2,000 respondents' attitudes towards marriage and childbirth showed a drop in those who were persuaded by these traditional incentives to start a family.

For example, the percentage of respondents who felt maternity leave benefits would have an influence on their decision to conceive, for instance, was 55 per cent, down from 66 per cent five years back, the last time the survey was conducted.

When asked about the Baby Bonus, numbers dipped to 50 per cent, from 69 per cent in 2009.

The survey examines the attitudes of married Singaporeans towards the enhanced 2013 Marriage and Parenthood Package.

Researchers polled 2,000 married Singapore citizens and permanent residents aged 21 to 49 for the survey, which was conducted from July to September 2014.

IPS research fellow Christopher Gee, who spearheaded the study, noted that the message from the survey was that "it's not just about the money."

In particular, women were unconvinced by the package - only 37 per cent said they found the package conducive to having children, compared to 43 per cent of men.

While the budget for the Government's package of measures has quadrupled since it was introduced - from $500m in 2001 to $2 billion in 2013 - birth rates have remained low, noted Mr Gee.

Singapore's total fertility rate has dipped from 1.6 in 2000 to 1.25 in 2014.

So the time has come to focus on what will encourage women to have children, he said, which the survey shows is more about the availability of options to help them balance career and family.

These include access to quality childcare and initiatives to help them ease back into the workforce after childbirth.

Women need to see that the traditional role of the stay-at-home mom is not the only option available to them, said Mr Gee.

His colleague, research assistant Loh Soon How, suggested radically changing shared parental leave to allow fathers to take on half of the 16 weeks of paid maternity leave their wives are entitled to.

Mr Gee said measures to improve birth rates should also be more targeted at those between the ages of 30 to 39, as the age at which people get married and have their first child has risen over the years.

But there is room for hope.

Over the next decade, there may be a demographic boost as more women - born to late Baby Boomers following Singapore's shift to a pro-natalist stance in 1988 - reach their thirties.

"It's a silver lining we can look forward to," Mr Gee said.

asyiqins@sph.com.sg