S'pore birth rate 3rd lowest in 5 E. Asia nations

Good news: Singapore's total fertility rate rose slightly last year.

Bad news: It ranks as the third lowest among the five East Asian developed societies - which are known for their rigorous work ethic - as it is ranked higher than Taiwan and Hong Kong, but lower than South Korea and Japan.

The National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) revealed figures that showed that Singapore's total fertility rate was 1.2 last year, up from 2010's record low of 1.15.

This means that the country was ahead of Hong Kong (1.13) and Taiwan (0.9), but trailed Japan (1.39) and South Korea (1.23).

These societies share similar challenges: They experience later marriages and rising singlehood.

For married couples, they have correspondingly fewer children.

These are due to the higher level of education attainment and better employment opportunities, deduced the NPTD, in its occasional paper on marriage and parenthood trends.

So, why is Japan's birth rate better than those of Singapore and the three other societies? After dropping to a low of 1.26 in 2005, Japan's birth rate rose to 1.32 in 2006 and continued to rise till last year.

Mr Yeoh Lam Keong, a senior adjunct fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, felt that Japan's social-support system makes it less of a struggle for parents to raise children.

For example, while Japan and Singapore both have good universal health care, only the former has a national pension system "which takes care of long-term social security".

Mr Yeoh said that to encourage Singaporeans to marry earlier and procreate, housing could be cheaper, education less expensive and stressful, and childcare options more affordable.

"There's no reason why Japan can do it and Singapore cannot," he added.

The NPTD yesterday also found that the proportion of Singaporean singles across all age groups has risen between 2000 and last year. Among those aged 30 to 34, singlehood rates jumped from 33 per cent to 44 per cent for males, and from 22 per cent to 31 per cent for females.

Interestingly, the NPTD pointed out that while falling birth rates are a challenge that most developed countries face, some nations - like Sweden and Denmark - have seen improving fertility rates which are closer to their fertility-replacement levels.

However, it noted that 30 per cent to over 50 per cent of children are born out of wedlock in these countries, compared to 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent in East Asian societies.

Hence, the NPTD said that Singapore must find proparenthood policies that are best suited to its own circumstances, cultural norms and socio-economic conditions.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean yesterday said the Government is reviewing its policies and measures to support Singaporeans to get married and have children, and that it welcomes ideas from the public.

He said: "Creating a supportive environment for Singaporeans to form families and raise children has been, and remains, a key government priority in addressing the population challenge."

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