Policies to boost birth rate must target middle class

Further policy-tinkering will be required in order to engender a substantial reversal in Singapore's persistently low fertility rate (Give more help to children with more siblings; Aug 14).

While that is true, giving a child with a sibling an advantage when applying to schools and universities is not the way to go. It is inherently and unwisely unmeritocratic.

Any policy favouring families with more children will need to provide incentives of real substantial value that focus on engaging the middle class.

The middle class is a large group that chooses to have fewer or no children at all, as a result of parents' anxieties over generational mobility and fears of "losing face" over their children's performances.

Should the policy prove ineffective, the benefits will be enjoyed only by the wealthy or the very poor.

The wealthy can afford a large family on their own, but will no doubt harness the policy to ensure their children remain ahead of the pack.

The children of the very poor may benefit from the policy, but it is doubtful if their standards of living will be greatly improved if their parents' earning capacities remain stagnant.

A child's performance is attributable to many factors. Correcting inequity in one area may result in a perpetuation in other inequities.

A country's citizens will have more children only if they find their environment safe, prosperous, optimistic and/or free of excessive collective anxieties.

A country's citizens will have more children only if they find their environment safe, prosperous, optimistic and/or free of excessive collective anxieties.

Rather than create more tension by tweaking the education system, policies should instead focus on redistributing wealth, lifting the living standards of the very poor and alleviating anxieties over social mobility.

Finding a way to prevent well-tuitioned households from gaming the system is a start.

Shaun Fu

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'Policies to boost birth rate must target middle class'. Print Edition | Subscribe