Sunday, 16 August 2009

Breed, Breed, Breed

The government's ongoing concern with the low birth rate which is less than the replacement ratio has once again come to the fore in the local media. It is one key reason given for allowing a large influx of foreigners into Singapore to drive the economy - a matter many Singaporeans feel very sensitive about.

To the outside observer and Singaporeans of a certain vintage, this problem appears largely of the government's own making. If one reads the history of social engineering from the 1960's onwards it becomes apparent the reluctance to breed was first triggered by a deliberate campaign to reduce population.

In those times parents who had more than two children were penalised and the incidence of abortion was high. Having a third child carried a stigma and financial cost.

Mui Teng Yap wrote an interesting paper on this subject entitled Fertility and Population Policy: the Singapore Experience in which he wrote " Singapore has long been known for its use of social policies to influence fertility/reproductive behaviour. This began in the late 1960s/early 1970s and continues to the present, although the demographic objective has changed from
anti-natalist to selectively pro-natalist. "

There was also great concerned that 'educated' Singaporeans were not breeding and the under classes were.

This changed in 1987 when the rule became "have three if you can afford them" but I suspect by then that the damage was done in that the cultural perceptions of what constituted a family had changed.

The current PM has four children, with the first born from his second marriage (Li Hongyi) also being born in 1987 according the to online biographies. His first wife tragically died of a heart attack during childbirth.

In 2004, "Dr Love" organised a TV show to encourage couples to have children but it did little good. In 2001 the Baby Bonus Scheme was introduced providing financial incentives but the Straits Times has just reported that even with a record bonus there has been little take up.

I wonder how the now elderly who wanted more children in the 1960's feel (and in particular those women who underwent abortions) when they see the current government efforts to increase the population through immigration?

As an aside, news also today that Minister Mentor's grandson Li Shengwu was named the top overall economics student across Oxford's 30 colleges. He has an excellent political and economics pedigree on both sides of the family- his maternal grandfather is economics professor Lim Chong Yah who also obtained his PhD from Oxford University.

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