Singapore's total fertility rate dipped to 1.20 in 2016

Babies in a nursery at Mount Alvernia hospital.

SINGAPORE - Slightly more Singaporeans tied the knot last year but fewer had children, according to latest preliminary figures released on Friday (Feb 10).

There were just 68 more marriages, bringing the total to 23,873 unions in which 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 that are now entering into their peak child-bearing ages of 25-39.

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

The new data shows 33,161 Singaporean babies were born last year, about 600 fewer than in the previous year (2015).

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 achieve 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's above 1, I think we're always grateful."

"More people getting married doesn't necessarily mean that 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 show 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 last two years was above the annual average of 32,000 recorded in the years 2007 to 2016.

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

"We're seeing a second demographic hump as this wave of children of baby boomers move up into adulthood," said Associate Professor Straughan.

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."

Mrs Teo said the Government will continue to support young millennial families and together with society, try to give them the confidence that marriage and parenthood are achievable, enjoyable and celebrated.

What is needed is " bold collective actions" in the areas of housing, pre-school services, workplace and community support, she said.

She hinted that new measures in these areas would be announced during next month's the debates on ministries' budgets next month.

Mrs Teo also encouraged millennials to take the time to start the families they dreamed of having, while pursuing other goals like climbing the career ladder.

She said: "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."

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