Raising birth rate now an economic imperative

Singapore's total fertility rate (TFR) fell from 1.24 in 2015 to 1.2 last year.

With a TFR that is below the replacement level of 2.1, concerns have been raised about the "demographic time bomb" that Singapore will face.

This coincides with recent announcements by the Government about the necessity of tax increases and and planned increased spending on healthcare (S'pore faces 'demographic time bomb', Dec 7; and S'pore to raise taxes as govt spending increases, Nov 20).

An unabated rise in social spending that prioritises the needs of the elderly population over younger Singaporeans is, however, unsustainable.

Singapore can also ill afford to have unbridled immigration, which will bring along with it a whole other set of problems.

The Republic has now reached a stage where it needs to view raising the TFR not just as a social good-to-have, but as an economic imperative which will help Singapore avoid a "silver tsunami".

A comprehensive approach that focuses on the importance of family is needed to effectively address this issue.

We need to help Singaporean workers achieve work-life harmony, more than work-life balance, through pro-family policies that encourage procreation - like making childcare affordable and offering flexible work arrangements.

Shared parenting should be encouraged, particularly in enabling fathers to play a greater role in raising their children.

One way to do so would be to significantly increase paternity leave from the current two weeks.

Companies like Facebook and Aviva, which recognise the important role fathers play in parenting, have matched their paternity and maternity leave benefits.

Singapore needs to invest in strengthening marriages, supporting families and reducing singlehood. We should also aim to reduce the number of abortions here too.

Encouraging more Singaporeans to get married not only potentially raises the TFR, but will also bring about other socio-economic benefits.

Ivan Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2017, with the headline 'Raising birth rate now an economic imperative'. Print Edition | Subscribe