Singapore’s total fertility rate has decreased to an all-time low of 1.16 percent. It's true the country’s population may have increased by 25 percent over the past decade, but this was due largely to the increased hiring of foreign workers in the prosperous city state. In reality, the low fertility rate points to a worrying fact: Singaporeans just aren’t having enough babies.
To encourage married couples to produce more children, the government has implemented the Baby Bonus Scheme, which entitles families to receive a cash gift of up to $6000 for each child they have. Another incentive is the Children Development Account in which the savings of couples is matched by the government to a cap of $6000 each for the first and second child, $12,000 each for the third and fourth child and $18,000 each for the fifth and any subsequent children.
But despite this generous financial package, Singaporeans still seem reluctant to have more children. Why?
The high cost of living in Singapore is the number one reason why couples are discouraged to procreate. The baby bonuses are removed when the child turns six years-old. Singaporeans are also complaining that raising kids is difficult because of prohibitive housing rates and soaring school costs. The pressure to be more productive in the office is also cited as a reason why couples are postponing or canceling their plans of having kids of their own.
To increase the population, the government’s other approach is to invite more foreign workers and immigrants. Singapore’s economy relies heavily on its highly skilled and creative workforce, which explains the aggressiveness of the government in trying to attract foreign talent. But the influx of foreigners is frowned upon by many Singaporeans who blame the ‘mismanaged’ immigration policies of the government for the continued drop in the country’s birth rate. Gerald Giam of the Workers' Party explains that local workers are spending less time with their families because they have to put in ‘extra hours (at work) 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.’
Singapore’s immigration policy will continue to generate intense public debate and will be a major issue on the election agenda. Meanwhile, the demand of Singaporeans to bring down the cost of living needs to be immediately addressed. Maybe overhauling the Baby Bonus Scheme should be considered.
If Singapore’s fertility rate continues to drop, Singaporeans might come to be known as a dying nationality.