Leslie Carol Botha: Are people reluctant to have babies because of economic prosperity – or are they having a hard time making babies because of infertility issues – a by product of economic prosperity.
How to Get People to Make More Babies in Singapore
Inter Press Service
SINGAPORE, Sep 4 2012 (IPS) – How to get Singaporeans to have more babies has become a major part of the debate about this country’s future, and the government is encouraging people to speak out on the issue.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his national day speech on Aug. 26, assured this nation of four million people that the government would make “the most important long-term investments in our people” by increasing spending on pre-school and university education.
His pledge to boost public spending on education, especially at the pre-school level, is in response to concerns that Singapore’s fertility rate has dropped alarmingly in the past two decades as the country has progressed economically. At 1.2 births per woman it is well below 2.1, the figure needed to keep Singapore’s population from shrinking.
The issue was given further momentum when Singapore’s 91-year-old founding father Lee Kuan Yew, addressing a national day dinner recently in his constituency, warned that the country was facing a choice of more babies or more immigrants to maintain its economic prosperity. “If we go on like this, this place will fold up” he warned.
The government has set up a National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), which has invited views from the public on how to bolster Singapore’s sagging birth rate. The new office is expected to come up with recommendations by the end of the year.
Singapore’s leading women’s association, AWARE, argued in a recent submission to the NPTD that quality of life concerns are the main reason that people are not having more babies. The group called for prioritising gender equality in public policy.
Corinna Lim, executive director of AWARE, said in an interview with IPS that there are many issues which the government could address, such as the lower rate of female employment, issues of childcare and dependency on foreign domestic workers, and the pressure on mothers to secure high-quality education for their children.
“Quality of life and having a baby comes in as the most important factor (in people’s reluctance to have babies),” she said. “If you are going to look at it as, oh, if I have children I need so much money, you might end up not having children.”