Six in 10 fathers did not take paternity leave last year, according to estimates released by the Ministry of Social and Family Development last week. This is a dismal statistic, especially since paternity leave was doubled to two weeks in 2017, and shared parental leave increased to four weeks from one previously. The reasons for this low take-up rate ranged from company culture to societal attitudes on gender norms to self-policing at work. If this is indicative of social trends, it is no wonder that Singapore's birth rate dipped to an eight-year low last year, with the total fertility rate sliding to 1.14 - way below the replacement rate of 2.1. Women in Singapore, accustomed to more social freedoms and armed with better education that affords financial freedom, are no longer willing to bear the sole burden of juggling career and family. This is a trend that is evident worldwide in the developed countries.
In Asian countries especially, it is hard to counter the traditional expectations that women are the primary caregivers for children and elderly relatives, in addition to being housekeepers. As educational levels rise, more women are choosing to favour careers and personal freedoms over getting married and having children. In Japan, for example, in the mid-1990s, only one in 20 women had never been married by the time they turned 50. By 2015, that figure had jumped to one in seven women. It is possible to arrest the trend of falling birth rates. In countries such as Denmark and Sweden, for example, the take-up rate for paternity leave is between 70 and 80 per cent.