Fewer marriages, births in S'pore last year due to pandemic; nuptial figures fall to lowest since 1986

There were 19,430 citizen marriages in 2020, down 12.3 per cent from 22,165 in 2019.
There were 19,430 citizen marriages in 2020, down 12.3 per cent from 22,165 in 2019.ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

SINGAPORE - Fewer marital unions and births took place in Singapore last year as some Singaporeans postponed their marriage and parenthood plans due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Government's annual Population in Brief report released on Tuesday (Sept 28).

There were 19,430 citizen marriages in 2020, down 12.3 per cent from 22,165 in 2019. This number is at its lowest since 1986, when there were 19,348 marriages.

The report, published by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), said pandemic-induced restrictions on large gatherings in the past year could have led couples to defer their marriages.

On a quarterly basis, the largest decline in numbers from 2019 was seen in the second quarter of 2020, when in-person solemnisations had to be postponed during the circuit breaker period from April 7 to June 1 last year. There were around 2,200 marriages in that quarter, down from 4,800 the previous year.

Video-link solemnisations were available from mid-May last year, caps on the number of attendees were gradually raised from early June onwards and receptions were allowed to resume in August. But this easing of measures was likely inadequate to prevent the continued postponement of some marriages.

There was an uptick in the fourth quarter of 2020 - around 7,700 marriages compared with 6,900 in 2019 - when restrictions were further loosened to allow for even more attendees at solemnisations and receptions.

The proportion of transnational marriages - between a citizen and a permanent resident or non-resident - among citizen marriages also fell to 30 per cent, down from 37 per cent in 2019 and to its lowest since 1997.

This decrease may have been partly due to Covid-19-related travel restrictions, said the report, noting that from late March last year, all non-residents required entry approval to enter Singapore. And although video-link solemnisations were an option from mid-May 2020 onwards, both parties still needed to be physically in Singapore.

The proportion of inter-ethnic marriages among citizen marriages - about one in five - stayed constant, as in previous years.

Meanwhile the number of citizen births dropped 3.1 per cent to 31,816 in 2020, from 32,844 in 2019.

The report said a similar decrease in births was also observed last year in other societies like the United States, Japan and Italy, which could reflect the "impact that uncertainties and health concerns arising from Covid-19 had on parenthood decisions".

"While this could have contributed to the lower number of citizen births in 2020, most of the births in 2020 would have been conceived prior to the pandemic, and the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic remains to be seen," it added.

Babies born in the fourth quarter of last year, however, would have been conceived around the start of the pandemic in Singapore in February. The lower number of births here - around 8,000 - compared with the same period in 2019 (around 8,700) suggests that some couples may have postponed parenthood plans due to the pandemic.

"We continue to face longer-term structural challenges with our low birth rates, similar to other advanced societies," said the report.

Singapore's resident total fertility rate (TFR) also remained below replacement rate, decreasing from 1.14 in 2019 to 1.1 in 2020.

Among the ethnic groups in Singapore, only the Malays' TFR increased, from 1.8 in 2019 to 1.82 last year. The TFR declined from the previous year for both Indians (0.98 to 0.96) and Chinese (0.99 to 0.94).

The report said Singapore's low overall TFR was partly due to a general trend of later marriages and child-bearing.

Last year, the median age at first marriage was 30.1 for citizen grooms and 28.4 for citizen brides, while the median age of citizen mothers at the birth of their first child was 30.8 years - similar to the figures for 2019.

In June 2020, NPTD and the Ministry of Social and Family Development commissioned a survey of about 4,000 Singaporeans, with about half of them single but in a serious relationship, while the other half were married.

About seven in 10 respondents said they would proceed with their plans to get married and have children. The remainder said they were delaying but not cancelling their plans.

Assistant finance manager Jeremy Gan, 29, and Ms Lim Dingyi, 27, an executive in an institute of higher learning, were married in May last year, in the midst of the circuit breaker period.

They had to ditch plans for a grand banquet with 300 guests, opting for an intimate ceremony featuring video-link solemnisation instead.

“What actually pushed us to do it was the uncertainty involved - there was a risk of our wedding being postponed indefinitely,” he said. “We wanted to just get it done, and not have new rules and restrictions down the road making it difficult for us, our parents and our guests.”

Ms Ashwathy Menon, 33, who works in finance, recently gave birth to a baby boy on Sept 11. She and her husband Mohamed Faizal, also 33 and a teacher, already have a four-year-old daughter - and their plans to grow their family were undeterred by the pandemic.

“Covid-19 didn’t stop us. We still stuck with wanting to have a baby at some point this year,” said Ms Menon. “With all the restrictions now, it’s actually a good time because then you can focus more time on nurturing your kids.”

The report noted that the Government had introduced a $3,000 baby support grant last year, to encourage couples in Singapore to proceed with their parenthood plans.

Couples with citizen children born from Oct 1, 2020 to Sept 30, 2022 will be eligible for this one-off incentive, which supplements the existing baby bonus cash gift of up to $10,000.

The Government will also continue to partner employers, corporates, and community groups to build a Singapore that is made for families, said the report.