The birth rate blame game

The TFR was 1.61 in 1983. Seventeen years later, in 2000, TFR still held steady at 1.6. But in just 10 years between 2000 and 2010, the fertility rate have seen a dramatic drop from 1.6 in 2000, to 1.26 in 2004, and to 1.16 last year. Coincidentally, this is also the period in which we have seen the most dramatic increase in our population through immigration and the import of foreign workers. Our population grew more than 25 per cent from four million to five million in this period. Could there be a link between the increase in population and the drop in birth rates?

Just like a broken record player, that tired refrain is heard yet again: We must welcome more new immigrants otherwise our economy will tank.

In recent days, with the release of the Census findings that Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR) has dropped to an all time low of 1.16, this rhetoric has turned to blame-shifting: It is your fault, Singaporeans, for not producing more offspring. You have left us with no choice but to open the floodgates to foreigners.

The TFR was 1.61 in 1983. Seventeen years later, in 2000, TFR still held steady at 1.6. But in just 10 years between 2000 and 2010, the fertility rate have seen a dramatic drop from 1.6 in 2000, to 1.26 in 2004, and to 1.16 last year. Coincidentally, this is also the period in which we have seen the most dramatic increase in our population through immigration and the import of foreign workers. Our population grew more than 25 per cent from four million to five million in this period.

Could there be a link between the increase in population and the drop in birth rates? It is not inconceivable. Young Singaporeans cite a variety of reasons for not having more children: Too busy at work, cost of living too high, education system too stressful for children (and their parents), cannot find a place of their own to stay.

Many of these reasons are linked to overcrowding and steeper competition, which are, to a large extent, the result of the mismanaged immigration policies of this government. Workers have to put in extra hours so they can be “cheaper, better, faster” and avoid being edged out of a job by foreigners willing to work for a third less salary. The higher demand for goods and services has pushed up prices. The already-stressful local school system has gotten tougher and more competitive. And of course high HDB prices have put the brakes on many housing and marriage plans.

So should the government be heaping the blame for low birth rates on hapless Singaporeans? I think not.

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19 thoughts on “The birth rate blame game”

  1. tell me about the bonus 4 month’s maternity leave —- my gf was recently retrenched while serving her first month’s maternity leave!!!
    she was paid all 4 month’s salary and 1 additional month as compensation only

    i ask her to bring it up to mom, but most will feel, save the trouble/ embarrasement..i mean even mom steps in, do you think she will be so thicked skin to reinstate her job?

  2. I know of many guys also happily having affairs with the foreign workers…How to increase the birth rate like that…that’s why all the wives…or some soon to be ex-wives…refuse to have children

  3. Welcoming foreigners is one thing, but will foreigners actually (1) stay on, (2) stay on and procreate? I feel that foreigners, once they are living and working here after some time, will also realise the stresses of working and high costs, and eventually also not procreate. So I guess we are back to square one.

  4. Please be careful, in the run up to the election, all sorts of funny tricks will be played.

    Singaporeans of all stripes are fed up with the status quo

  5. Personally I feel it’s neither blame shifting nor justification as it seems to me that the current low birth rate and current immigration policies are not really linked.

    I suppose the impact of a low fertility rate will only be seen and felt many years later, but weirdly we’re talking about the influx of immigrants today. Unless we are advocating child labour, where is the connection? The current influx is purely for current economic considerations. What sort of justification is it? If the immigration policy is to grant citizenship to serial rapists all over the world, or to buy babies from human traffickers, those seem to be a better justification albeit ridiculous ones. ? Or are we comparing about how 20 years later eg. my son of 20 years of age is going to compete for a job with a 50 year old immigrant? Unless the low birth rate actually occured many years ago (that even 1.63 in 1983 was insufficient), which obviously means there has been a really major screw-up.

    Of course, the whole idea of using immigration to counter dwindling population works, which I too will support when it nears, so our workforce can be replenished. However, if the economy cannot sustain the influx and Singaporeans are losing jobs to the immigrants, obviously the issue isn’t about low birth rate…..yet. Of course, you need years ahead since you can’t just open the floodgates a year or two before the actual projected labour shortage arises, and immigrants need time to assimilate into the population. While it may just be true that Singapore needs the immigrants to counter low birth rates, the step is just a step needed to correct their own mistake. That despite always claiming that Singapore is different from other countries to justify the different policies, Singapore is still unable to avoid the same fate as those of other developed nations (being of low birth rate). So blame shifting? Nay, more like acknowledgement of incompetence and failed policies like baby bonus and other tax incentives.

    As a separate but related issue, I am puzzled sometimes when I see discussions on immigration policies. Are we talking about the influx of foreign workers, or foreigners taking up citizenship in Singapore?

    If we’re talking about foreign workers who returns home after 2-3 years, I was under the perhaps-mistaken view that they were mainly employed in jobs which no Singaporeans will do (eg. rubbish collection, construction etc). Of course, there will be those displaced like waitresses, and other unskilled labour, but I will like to think that the people up there have the statistics to know what ratio is sustainable. But such foreign workers are temporal, and will not solve the issue of a dwindling population as we need a pool of long term and skilled talent as well.

    However, if we are talking about foreigners becoming citizens, I guess it’s not really an issue to me since they become fellow Singaporeans, and our citizenship will cost a bomb or unless the foreigner has exceptional skills. I do not think these immigrants work for less money since the are living in Singapore and subjected to the same high living standards.
    At the end of it, I don’t know who’s trying to push the blame or trying to justify the influx of immigrants now. All I know is if the elected ignores the electorate, the elected pushes the blame on the electorate, or the elected tries to justify a remedial action which is a fruit of his own incompetence, the elected should ask itself and declare publicly whether it serves the electorate or vice versa.

  6. How about another view on this issue of SG’s plummeting birth rate; the personal choice that an individual has.

    Aside from employment insecurities, a crowded city and a stifling society, personal factors such as choice, lifestyle, company of friends, travel, freedom to do whatever and whenever are also important, more so to others than pairing up with someone, getting married or even starting a family.

    Having a child is not an easy decision to make. The financial cost, slept, time sacrifice is a hard pill to swallow. Starting a family really clip one’s wings, so to speak. Perhaps the mindset of the average Singaporean is such…

  7. I think people in power are not appreciating the gravity of the situation. The low TFR has a compounding effect. Let’s say that today’s couple’s are having fewer children. 25 years down the road, when the kids grow up and start having children, we will still have a population problem even if our children were all having 2.1 children per women. It is because the number of child-bearing couples would have been reduced in the future. In fact, even if the TFR were to go up to 2.1 tomorrow, we would still face a population crunch problem because the problem started in the 80’s.

    It is either the case that the government is not taking this problem seriously (and kicking it down the can) or that it is counting on immigration to make up the numbers in the future.

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