SINGAPORE - The central issue about increasing Singapore's birth rate is whether we are prepared to take the perhaps radical steps which have enabled some developed Western countries to raise their birth rates from near terminal decline to more than replacement levels.
Whether such steps, which largely involve creating a state-funded parental support ecosystem, are prohibitively expensive or a vital necessity, depends on whether we consider our birth rate to be a strategic imperative of the same priority as, say, national service, which is certainly not cheap either.
Ever since the mid-1960s when the Government launched a population control programme, our TFR, or total fertility rate, has been continually declining.
For three decades, it has been below the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman and, since 2003, a dozen years ago, it has been less than 1.3 births per woman.
We're hovering at the edge of the precipice, the so-called low-fertility trap, which is when a confluence of demographic, sociological and economic trends all converge and create a self- reinforcing, unstoppable spiral downwards.
A slight uptick last year is encouraging news, but hardly a trend yet.
A few years ago, our resident population already started to shrink, although it has not been noticeable to most people because of the influx of foreign workers.
Arresting this trend will not be easy: One Institute of Policy Studies finding was that even with an increased TFR to, say, 1.8 births per woman, which is quite optimistic and 50 per cent higher than at present, the resident population will still start to decline in the next 15 to 20 years.
We would need to take in about 20,000 new citizens per year on a net basis - meaning that it has to be more in reality to offset those migrating out of Singapore - to stem the decline and achieve simple zero population growth.
This is about the size of a Marine Parade town each year. It is not small. And with anti-immigration sentiments persisting, if at least not increasing, in- migration cannot fill the population gap.