Why It Matters

It takes a country to lift birth rates

As Chinese families gathered for reunion dinners over the weekend, their youngest additions would probably have received the most attention.

The latest official figures show more Singaporeans were born last year - at least 33,793 new babies, 600 more than in 2014.

The figure is the highest in 13 years, surpassing the last Dragon Year in 2012.

But even more reason for cheer is the holistic approach that Singapore's leaders are espousing in trying to reverse the country's low birth rates.

Their message: that family is more than just about babies, and that it is important to support parents.

Family is also about living a full life and sharing joys and sorrows over a lifetime with loved ones, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his traditional Chinese New Year message yesterday.

Last week, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees population matters, encouraged fathers to play a bigger part in raising children, and employers to do more to support them.

To this end, the Government is looking to make the second week of paternity leave compulsory, she said in a Facebook post last Friday.

Employers currently get to choose whether or not to provide the second week of paternity leave.

Working mothers may also soon be able to share more of their four-month paid maternity leave with their husbands, up from one week at present.

Fewer than 5 per cent of eligible fathers now take up the shared parental leave, so there is clearly much room for improvement on this front.

These are promising steps. But tweaking policies is one thing and it is much harder to change the culture behind the low birth rate.

In this regard, the recent advertisements in train stations urging people to conceive earlier while they are more fertile should, perhaps, be reviewed.

At a time when officials are trying to be more supportive and change social mindsets, such attempts at social pressure may not be helpful.

As any young couple trying to conceive might say, the last thing they need is more pressure to do so.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2016, with the headline 'It takes a country to lift birth rates'. Print Edition | Subscribe