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mercredi, janvier 27, 2010

 Birth rate still dipping

Maybe it's time to be humble, and recognise in a holistic manner, that we can't have our cake and eat it too. A man reaps what he sows, and old policies to limit population growth - implemented at a time when such a policy was needed - continue to take their toll on mindsets and paradigms that people hold.

Less marriages, more divorce, less children, more immigrants. Three are fact, one is policy. But reality doesn't mean we give up the fight against the earlier; doesn't mean that we open the floodgates to the latter. We just need to come to the problem with humility, and recognise that as a country, we can't do everything.

Support marriage and help families have children, and you'll lose productivity as more women leave the workforce - but family-friendly practices are an investment in our country for the long run. More needs to be done yesterday, or we will continue to live in the shadow of the stop-at-two legacy that was left to us.

One key thing which stands out to me as I chat with my friends, especially newly-married friends about marriage and children, is that they want children - definitely, the majority of married Singaporeans want children. But money is an issue - houses, cars, help - these all come at some kind of cost, be it time, energy, sacrifice, career advancement. And for the moment, with opportunity costs abounding at every turn (missing out on that promotion, on that work trip, on the savings from living with your parents, on the freedom of flying off on holiday with your partner hassle-free) - these non-monetary costs are far, far too high to put off for the sake of children.

The central problem facing the government is its too-pragmatic approach towards children. Perhaps because the policy is informed by the Singaporean technocrat drive towards efficiency, efficacy, and economics, any child-family plan is always underpinned with the mentality that this is economically good for you, so why don't you do this?

This is why the baby bonus failed. This is why paternal benefits are still crap. This is why women still continue to be laid off once they're pregnant. This is why the SDU continues to be known as the single, desperate and ugly club - despite its rebranding exercise.

I once asked an older friend why he had his kids, knowing that he wasn't in a financially great position. He said - well, at the core of it, you've got to see that having children isn't about economics and finances at all - it's about God's command in the bible to "be fruitful and multiply."

Other friends who are not religious also echoed similar imperatives which were divorced from any economic/pragmatic approach. Biological imperative, spreading one's DNA, "because kids are so cute!", "who is going to take care of me when I am older?" were some other reasons - all not particularly economic, some more self-serving than others - but not once did I hear anything about "$10,000 education fund leh" or "baby bonus!" If anything, the puny baby bonus is continually scoffed at for its miniscule amount - "not enough to even pay for diapers leh!" one friend laughed.

So how now? I'd say that we have to drop the pragmatic impulse, and push the balanced-family-life agenda. At the moment, far too many people see - only too clearly - the cost of having children, and not the intangible social benefits. Only a forward looking policy, which forgoes the short-term economic gains for the long-term social reward of having a committed populace, will bring Singapore's population policy into the future.

If not, we'll continue to miss the forest for the trees.

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[Birth rate still dipping]
Sngs Alumni @ 27.1.10 { 0 comments }


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