Debate on ministries' budgets: Prime Minister's Office

Parliament: Optimism for uptick in total fertility rate

Josephine Teo points to positive trend in marriage, birth numbers

Efforts to improve Singapore's total fertility rate in the past five years have been significant, but may take more time to bear fruit, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

Nonetheless, an optimistic picture is emerging.

Mrs Teo, who oversees population affairs, told Parliament yesterday that the average number of Singaporean babies born in the past five years was higher than that of previous five-year periods. Recent marriage numbers have also remained high.

"Given the positive marriage trends, I remain hopeful that there could be an uptick in the total fertility rate when the children of the baby boomers start having babies themselves," she said, in the debate on the budget for the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

The National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), which coordinates and formulates government policies on population and talent, comes under the PMO's Strategy Group.

Mrs Teo said that between 2014 and 2018, an average of 33,000 Singaporean babies were born each year. The corresponding figures for the two preceding five-year periods were 31,400 and 32,000.

  • 1.14

    Singapore's total fertility rate last year; it dipped from 1.16 in 2017.

But Singapore's total fertility rate also dipped from 1.16 in 2017 to 1.14 last year, probably because young people are taking longer to find the right partner and starting families later. For the population to replace itself without immigration, women need to have an average of 2.1 babies.

 
 
 

Various measures, such as greater parental leave provisions, are in place to help parents get better work-life balance, and more workplaces now support flexible work arrangements, she said.

But often, "deeper issues of workplace culture" result in Singaporeans working long hours with little time left for dating or family life.

"As the nature of work evolves, there is value for organisations to adopt new ways of working that achieve good business outcomes while giving staff enough downtime to recharge," she said.

Nine MPs spoke on the importance of having pro-family policies, with some raising questions on why the fertility rate remained low despite efforts to encourage more Singaporeans to have children.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) called for an "urgent review" to understand why measures have not been effective, while Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) asked if any studies had been done on why more young people are choosing not to get married and have children.

Mrs Teo said the NPTD will launch a consultation process in the next few months to learn more about Singaporeans' needs and concerns when forming families.

"I agree we can do more. However, porting over practices in other countries wholesale may not yield the desired results," she said.

In her speech, she also underscored how the Government remains "highly selective" in granting permanent residence and citizenship, which is part of its population management strategy.

Apart from looking at applicants' age, family profile and economic contributions, the Government also considers their ability to integrate.

"We look for markers of rootedness and identification with Singapore's way of life, values and norms," she said, adding that the Government will continue to maintain a careful balance when managing immigration.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2019, with the headline 'Optimism for uptick in total fertility rate '. Print Edition | Subscribe