Adapt to realities of changing population demographics

It is probably true that decreasing populations bring about less economic growth and consumption ("When baby formula is hard to solve"; Nov 12).

But this has not always been so.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when life expectancies started to increase dramatically and birth rates were projected to double the world's population within decades, sociologists and politicians feared the population bomb that would explode would bring about severe poverty, hunger and deprivation.

This has not come about.

While longevity continues, birth rates have decreased markedly in First and Second World countries.

It seems as if, given control over their reproductive functions through contraceptive devices, women prefer not to procreate - embracing the liberty of singlehood and a childless marriage.

And when couples do reproduce, they seem to decide that concentrating their limited resources offers their single offspring the best chance of success.

A rapid contraction of population negatively affects social dynamism and will, in future, impact the ability of current cohorts to support the elderly.

However, countries with the greatest expansion of population at present, namely, Third World ones or those where contraception is forbidden, are not exploding with hope and optimism either.

Indeed, without growth in job and business opportunities and infrastructure, the Kafkaesque scenario of a resource-depleted world unable to support teeming masses of hungry humans will incontrovertibly come to pass.

In the Singapore context, which is the cart and the horse? Current conventional wisdom dictates that a stagnating or decreasing population will be a problem. But are insurmountable problems faced by couples in their quest for a big family the problem itself?

In time to come, the grey tsunami will engulf us. Increasing our population through the importation of migrants works expediently, but this may come at the cost of social stress, unrest and the loss of social cohesion.

On the other hand, if we want our core to be quintessentially Singaporean, but the young just do not want to reproduce, then the choice is stark and simple: Our elderly must be far more adaptable, active and productive.

Perhaps they must learn to be less dependent or reliant, and make do with less governmental help and subsidies - which may not be such a bad thing after all.

Otherwise, they risk a generational war with the young over scant and precious resources.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2015, with the headline 'Adapt to realities of changing population demographics'. Print Edition | Subscribe