Marriages up slightly, but fewer babies born last year

The new data shows that 33,161 Singaporean babies were born last year, about 600 fewer than in the previous year.
The new data shows that 33,161 Singaporean babies were born last year, about 600 fewer than in the previous year.PHOTO: ST FILE

Slightly more Singaporeans tied the knot last year but fewer had children, according to the latest preliminary figures released yesterday.

There were just 68 more marriages than in the previous year, bringing the total to 23,873 unions where at least one spouse is a Singaporean. But fewer babies were born despite the increase in the number of young women in their peak child-bearing years.

In disclosing these figures, Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Josephine Teo said: "We have a relatively large cohort of young Singaporeans who are now entering into their peak child-bearing ages of 25-39.

"But many have not yet started having children," Mrs Teo said in a Facebook post. She is the minister in charge of population matters.

The new data shows that 33,161 Singaporean babies were born last year, about 600 fewer than in the previous year.

The drop pulled down the country's total fertility rate (TFR) to 1.20. The TFR measures the average number of children per woman.

It is below the previous year's 1.24, which is well below the 2.1 rate a population needs to replace itself.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said Singapore's TFR tends to fluctuate around the 1.2 level, adding: "As long as it is above one, I think we are always grateful."

"More people getting married doesn't necessarily mean more people will have children," she added.

Another reason for the lower birth rate could be that some of last year's weddings were remarriages between older couples who are less likely to have children, she said.

But there is reason for optimism: The data shows young people are still getting married and having children. Mrs Teo highlighted two trends that suggest this.

First, Singaporeans are not getting married that much later.

The median age when Singaporeans first marry has been stable since 2011: 28 years for women, and 30 years for men.

Second, people are not having fewer children. Mrs Teo noted the number of children born each year in the past two years was above the annual average of 32,000 recorded in the years 2007 to last year.

Also, the cohort of young people is large, as they are the children of baby boomers.

Said Associate Professor Straughan: "We are seeing a second demographic hump as this wave of children move up into adulthood."

She added: "If we have policies in place that continue to make this a conducive place to get married and have children, then hopefully we can look forward to more encouraging news in the next few years."

Hedge fund analyst Howie Lee, 30, who married last year, said he and his wife decided not to have children right away because they want to save enough money first.

He said: "If we can have a less competitive education system, and not worry whether they can find a good job later, that would be helpful."

Mrs Teo said the Government will continue to support millennial families, and hinted that new measures in housing, preschool services, workplace and community support would be announced soon.

She encouraged millennials to take the time to start the families they dreamed of having, while pursuing other goals such as climbing the career ladder.

"It is not unusual for people to have reached the zenith of their careers only to look back wishing they had set aside some time to grow a family of their own," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'Marriages up slightly, but fewer babies born last year'. Print Edition | Subscribe