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Clear consequences to changing family structures

The reasons behind the decline in birth rates here can be narrowed down to three broad categories: escalating singlehood, marriages at an increasingly later age, and the choice to have fewer offspring.

Rapid advances in medical care have made our life expectancy one of the highest globally.

With lower birth rates, the double whammy of a shrinking citizen population and smaller workforce will soon become a stark reality.

This impending transformation in our family structures will have conspicuous consequences.

In fact, single-person households are already apparent in our country. Married couples without any children are also on the increase.

All these factors will lead to a diminishing support ratio between working and non-working adults. The economically active will have to bear a greater share of the tax burden.

As our population shrinks, so will our customer base and ability to supply sufficiently trained and talented workers to meet the human resource needs of multinational corporations and local enterprises.

This could precipitate the relocation of foreign businesses, leaving tens of thousands of Singaporeans out of work.

Those with the right talents, experience and qualifications may decide to venture overseas. Singapore's elderly support ratio will get worse.

Unless our Government makes impactful policy changes that give our workers less pressure at work and more time with their families, control the spiralling cost of living, and provide public housing schemes that continue to encourage families to live close to one another, the birth rate will not improve. Married couples will not want to have more children simply because they cannot afford the time and money to raise them.

As we cannot depend on the Government to comprehensively cover the welfare needs of retirees, families have to rally together.

The problem is that the ever-shrinking base of working adults means that by 2030, there will be only a meagre two economically productive Singaporeans for every retiree.

Jeffrey Chew Tec Hock (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 15, 2016, with the headline 'Clear consequences to changing family structures'. Print Edition | Subscribe