SINGAPORE - WEDDING bells rang more often in Singapore last year and the stork was also a more regular visitor, as fresh statistics show more Singaporeans got married and had babies.
There were 24,000 marriages involving at least one citizen, the highest number since 1997, said the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) in a statement yesterday.
Also, Singaporeans had 33,000 babies, an increase from 31,000 in 2013. This raises the country's total fertility rate (TFR) to 1.25, from 1.19 in the previous year.
These figures cheered Minister in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) Grace Fu, who said: "I'm delighted to see more Singaporeans finding love and joy, and setting up new families with their loved ones and having children of their own. This is indeed a good SG50 present for Singapore."
The NPTD, which is under the PMO, attributed the increase in marriages to two factors: more Housing Board flats being made available and more Singaporeans - the children of baby boomers - entering marriageable age.
"The Government has been supporting them in fulfilling their aspirations to marry and have children," the NPTD said. "We will continue to support Singaporean families, including in the area of childcare, and make it easier for both fathers and mothers to share the experience of bringing up their children."
In the past few years, the Government has introduced several measures to help boost marriages and births. It ramped up the supply of Build-to-Order HDB flats, and had two housing schemes to help young couples with children, or who are expecting a child, set up home more quickly.
Ms Anita Fam of Families For Life said: "We have felt all along that when housing is more accessible, that does make a difference."
Engineer Raymond Mok, 27, and his teacher wife, Ms Tan Wee Theng, 26, agree.
"A couple who want to start a family will face certain difficulties, like space constraints, if they do not have a home of their own," said Mr Mok, who got married last December, soon after getting the keys to an HDB flat. "We want to have children at an earlier age."
Before last year's uptick in marriages involving at least one Singapore citizen, such marriages had fallen from 23,192 in 2012 to 21,842 in 2013.
Singapore's TFR - the average number of children born to a woman who completes her child-bearing years - also fell in the same period, from 1.29 to 1.19. This is below the replacement rate of 2.1.
National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said: "If the TFR doesn't go down, it's already a good thing. The fact that it has gone up and crossed 1.2 is definitely a big bonus."
The next big challenge is to help couples, especially women, balance work and family commitments, she added.
Ms Fu, who has three sons who turn 23, 21 and 18 this year, said: "I hope these positive trends will continue in Singapore's jubilee year as we gain confidence in Singapore's future as a good place to raise our families, where many opportunities for education and jobs await our children."