Work-life balance, cost of living among S'pore couples' key concerns in building a family

Speech therapist Lim Hui Shan reads with her son Isaac Er, at the Tampines Regional Library, on Nov 15, 2021. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Work-life harmony and the cost of living have been highlighted by Singaporeans as areas they would like to see positive change in as they plan and build their families.

Other key themes that have emerged from conversations with couples as important to them include fertility health, the holistic development of children with broader definitions of success, and better care for young children, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah last week.

A series of seven online dialogues between April and July gleaned ideas from more than 300 participants who were either at different stages of marriage and parenthood or were engaged or dating.

The Emerging Stronger Conversations - Building A Singapore That Is Made For Families was co-led by Ms Indranee and Minister of State for Education and Social and Family Development Sun Xueling.

Ms Indranee, who oversees the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), said the suite of measures to support marriage and parenthood was being reviewed, to see how support for families can be strengthened while striking a balance between various elements.

An NPTD spokesman said the division continually reviews existing support based on engagements with Singaporeans and businesses, and is studying feedback from the conversations to see how it can further refine measures.

Ms Indranee said the review will hopefully be completed by next year.

Finding the right balance is key, she said. Alleviating costs, such as by increasing baby bonuses, would not be sufficient to boost the total fertility rate - which dipped to its lowest in 2020 at 1.1, she said, adding that parents wanted help elsewhere.

"Going forward, flexible work arrangements are key, because for many of them, they will tell you they are under a lot of stress, how to be able to juggle the time to look after their kids and parents," she added.

This focus on work arrangements comes as more fathers are taking paternity leave. In 2019, 55 per cent of fathers took at least one week out of the two available to them as paternity leave, compared with 25 per cent in 2013.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah (right) speaking with speech therapist Lim Hui Shan (second from left) and her son Isaac Er. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Ms Lim Hui Shan, 42, a locum speech therapist, said the flexibility of her job has been important for her family. She has three boys aged six, 11 and 13.

She can juggle work commitments with caring for her children, while her husband, 43, has a more traditional work week as a public servant.

She also noted that cost was initially a factor when she and her husband were planning for a family.

With a larger family now, she added: "We are hoping to move to a larger flat so that we can also take my mum - aged 72, and who has dementia - in if necessary."

Correction note: This article has been edited for accuracy. We are sorry for the error.

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