Flat first before a child, say nearly 93% of Singaporeans in Straits Times online poll

Babies in a nursery at Mount Alvernia hospital. PHOTO: ST FILE
A baby in a nursery at Mount Alvernia hospital. PHOTO: ST FILE

That appears to be the view of most readers who responded to a Straits Times online poll on Wednesday (Oct12).

Of the 14,000 responses garnered so far, close to 93 per cent voted in favour of owning a flat first before thinking about starting a family.

Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, in an interview with The Straits Times on marriage and parenthood issues, noted that the Singaporean love story differed from that of Western countries.

"In our case, man meets woman, man falls in love with woman, man proposes to woman, they then plan the wedding and do the house," noted Mrs Teo, who oversees the National Population and Talent Division.

Responding to a question on whether young people are not getting their flats early enough to have children, she said: "You need to have a very small space to have sex."

Her candid response triggered an avalanche of comments on social media about the difficulties of family planning without the security of a roof over their heads.

Facebook user Jensen Lu stressed the importance of having a "space of your belonging" to raise a child comfortably.

Another, Geetha Subramaniam, related her own experiences of giving birth to two children as she lived with her parents while waiting for her Build-To-Order (BTO) flat to be ready.

"As much as it was great having my family to help out, it was also very difficult. Space was a major constraint and apart from post-natal stress, there were many issues due to difference in opinions."

She concluded: "Yes, you do not need a big space to have sex. But you do need an adequate space to raise a child."

One user suggested that Mrs Teo had missed the point of couples preferring to secure a flat first.

"To have a house before a child is correct. Is she encouraging young couples to have young babies and continue to depend on their parents?" asked Jo-ann Tan.

Some, however, agreed with Mrs Teo that couples could still have a baby first and shared their personal experiences.

Said Facebook user Jelissa Mei: "To be honest, we had our first kid when living with my in-laws. We had our second one when we were staying with my parents. It was only when we lived in our own flat that we had the third one.

"The point is, if you really want to have children, it doesn't matter if you have your own flat or not."

Singapore's total fertility rate (TFR) stood at 1.24 in 2015, slightly down from 1.25 the year before. The replacement TFR - which is when a population can replace itself - is 2.1.

The Government has been looking for ways to encourage Singaporeans to have children, including rolling out measures to help couples who are waiting for their flats.

One such initiative is the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme which provides rental flats to first-timer married couples who are waiting for their new flats to be completed.

Since its launch in 2013, nearly 230 babies have been born to couples who benefited from the scheme, Mrs Teo said in an update in January this year.

Going forward, young couples will be able to move into their new homes quicker, as the Government aims to shorten the wait for public housing by bringing forward construction and building ahead of BTO launches.

When implemented, the move will see the waiting period for BTO flats dip to two to three years, from the current three to four years, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in an interview last week.

There will also be more support networks to help young parents. For instance, the Government hopes to increase the number of childcare spots from the current one for every two children, to two for every three.

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