An ominous sign of demographic decline appeared last week, when the annual Population in Brief report showed that the biggest proportion of women staying single is in the prime childbearing years of 25 to 29. The findings coincide with Singapore's total fertility rate plunging to a seven-year low of 1.16 last year, down from 1.2 in 2016. The figure is far from the ideal number: For the population to replace itself without immigration, women need to have an average of 2.1 babies. Instead, fewer Singaporean women got married last year compared with a decade ago, a shift that has been identified as the biggest cause of the country's low fertility rate. It would be worrying if these developments became a stubborn trend.
Of course, marriage and parenthood are personal choices that any society should respect. But they also have national consequences that rightly concern others. Few will complain that women might choose singlehood because they no longer are compelled to marry for economic reasons. It perhaps is also unavoidable in a patriarchal society that some men delay marriage till they are financially capable of becoming breadwinners, a gendered role that the rise and spread of feminism have done little to change. Then, for both women and men, the pressures of a competitive society make them focus on career first, postponing marriage and children. Compounding these problems is the plight of couples who want children but face fertility issues.