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Monday with the Editor: Declining birth rate


Singapore's declining birth rate has been in the news recently. First, Minister Lim Hng Kiang said on 8 Dec 2003 that the Government was looking into financial schemes for infant care to help parents pay for qualified caregivers to look after their babies when they are at work.

This is expected to provide incentive to those thinking about having children but worrying about juggling work and childcare.

Coincidentally, an article in The Straits Times of 12 Dec 2003 quoted birth rate between 2001 and this year. It reported that with 31,171 births between January and October this year, Singapore is headed for its lowest birth rate in 26 years. 

Yes! It's true. Our population has been declining over the past few decades. The number of babies born has fallen from 50,100 births in 1991 to 41,100 in 1999. Our population's replacement rate stood at 1.4 in 2001, with the Chinese at just 1.2. If the situation worsens, Singapore may not be able even to replace its own population by just relying on births alone.

Of course, with the good life, the mortality rate has also fallen. Girls born in 2000 can expect to live up to 80 while boys can expect to see their 76th birthday.

But, our population has aged significantly, with the number of people over 65 years old increasing from 164,000, or 6% of the population in 1990, to 238,000, or 7.3% of the population in 2000.

The babyboomers - i.e. born after World War II and aged between 5 & 24 in 1970 - are now in their 30s, 40s & 50s. The women in this group of people are in the child-bearing age now. Records show that the median age of mothers who gave birth to their babies in 2001 was 31 years old.  

To buck Singapore's downward birth rate trend, we need to encourage the singles in this group of people to pair up, and the married to have children to keep them company in their old age.

Statistics show that in 2001, at age 30 - 34 years, 31 per cent of males and 20 per cent of females were still single. At age 40 - 44 years, some 14 - 15 per cent of the males and females were still not married in 2001.

While we cannot force people to procreate, we certainly can try to offer incentives to these people to help Singapore have more children. Singapore may an expensive place to live in. And people may be too caught up in the cycle of work and play that they forget they have a duty to ensure their lineage continues. But, let's hope that the babyboomers among us will spare a thought for Singapore's and their future - for both are tied together.

In the 1970's, when I was a teenager, for every one old person over 60 years old, there were over eight economically active persons supporting that person. And in 2030, when I will be in my 70s, for every one old person over 60 years old, there will only be 2 economically active persons supporting that person. Now that's a heavy burden for the youngsters of today to shoulder when they join the employment market. Shouldn't we babyboomers lighten their burden by having more children?

Have a good week!




HOME at Sculpture Square  30 Oct - 21 Dec 2003

Ling Chung The Dragon - by Tam Tam Theatre (London)  4-14 Dec 2003

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15 December 2003

Singapore Time