Number of babies born in Singapore drops to 8-year low

39,039 births last year a 1.5% slide from 2017; fertility rate further below replacement level

Posed photo of a baby's foot. PHOTO: ST FILE

The number of babies born here last year fell to an eight-year low, posing more demographic challenges for an ageing population.

The Report on Registration of Births and Deaths 2018 said 39,039 births were registered last year, a 1.5 per cent drop from 2017.

At the same time, the number of deaths grew by 1.8 per cent, from 20,905 in 2017 to 21,282 last year, according to the report by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

A greying population means deaths have been on an upward trajectory since at least 1998, when there were 15,657 deaths.

Singapore's total fertility rate also dipped from 1.16 in 2017 to 1.14 last year, well below the replacement rate of 2.1.

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the downward trend in births will generally continue. This is a concern, he added, as the population must be replenished to ensure that a vibrant economy can be maintained, which can also support a greying population.

Associate Professor Kang Soon-Hock of the Singapore University of Social Sciences said the birth figures reflect current socio-economic trends, such as more young people choosing to be single and couples delaying marriage and parenthood.

But increased uncertainties because of digital disruption, global financial volatility and climate change also play a part, said Professor Jean Yeung, director of the Centre for Family and Population Research at NUS.

"(These factors) might prompt couples to think even more carefully about whether to bring a baby into the world or not," she said.

The median age of resident live births for first-time mothers was 30.6 years last year, compared with 29.7 years in 2009. This itself is a cause for concern, said Prof Yeung, as fertility decreases with age.

Junior art director Mohammed Farhan Hassan, 37, and his wife, a 33-year-old teacher, were lucky to welcome a daughter last year.

"We got married in 2017 and met just three years before that, so we ended up having a child when we were a bit older," he said.

The couple want another child. "Our main concern is whether we can balance this with our work schedules, but I believe this is something we can work out," he said.

Employers should do more to help workers find a balance, said Singapore Management University professor of sociology (practice) Paulin Straughan. "Human resource departments should review their evaluation frameworks and make sure we don't overly reward and encourage the over-committed," she said. Singapore may have to review its stance on immigration if births keep dipping, she added, but this should be a last resort.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2019, with the headline Number of babies born in Singapore drops to 8-year low. Subscribe