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'Having kids isn't the end point': Singles taking relaxed approach to marriage and parenthood

'Having kids isn't the end point': Singles taking relaxed approach to marriage and parenthood
Digital marketer Lisa, 34, knew several years ago that she wanted to spend her life with her boyfriend J.M., a programmer, but felt there was no rush to marry as they did not want to have children.
PHOTO: Lisa via The Strait Times

SINGAPORE - Ms Clara Chua used to think she would be married with children by her 40s.

But single at 31 after her two-year relationship ended in 2023 - she and her former boyfriend had different outlooks on life, she says - she has no plans to date.

Her hands are full as a life coach and as food influencer Explodingbelly on TikTok, where she has more than 35,000 followers.

"I realised getting married and having kids is not the end point or something that must happen in order for me to be happy or fulfilled," said Ms Chua.

A Department of Statistics (DOS) analysis published in May said a decline in the proportion of married females among those in their 20s and 30s contributed to Singapore's falling total fertility rate (TFR).

At a historic low of 0.97 in 2023, Singapore's resident TFR - the estimated average number of babies a woman would have over her reproductive years, based on current birth trends - is among the lowest globally.

The DOS analysis was criticised for appearing to attribute the falling TFR to single women.

Single men and women interviewed by The Straits Times said they do not see getting married as a mandatory life goal, or have trouble finding the right person.

In October 2023, Ms Chua left her six-figure recruitment job after 7½ years to take up her dream job as a life coach, which now takes priority over settling down.

She has lived on her own for three years in a condo apartment she owns, and enjoys the freedom of living solo.

"But if I manage to meet someone whom I connect with in the things that I do, then why not?"

She added: "It's just a different experience - one is a shared journey with someone else. And then the other one is experiencing independence, meeting new people."

Getting married and having children are not off the table either, but she is in no rush to do so. She does not have a goal of having a child by a certain age, like 35. "To me, it's more of an 'if it comes, it comes' kind of mindset."

She added: "I stand for living a life that is true to yourself and what you want, more so than being pressured by societal factors or people around you to lead life a certain way."

Singapore Management University sociology professor Paulin Straughan said young people want the freedom to explore goals other than finding a partner, after going through the education system.

"Once all that education is done, I think most would want to take stock of where they're heading now. More are pausing, trying to figure out what makes them happy and where they want to focus."

DOS data shows that the share of singles had seen the largest increase among women aged 25 to 29 compared with other age groups over the past decade, rising from 62.4 per cent in 2013 to 70.1 per cent in 2023.

For men, the share of singles rose the most among those aged 30 to 34 - from 39.6 per cent in 2013 to 45.2 per cent in 2023.

National University of Singapore associate professor of sociology Bussarawan Teerawichitchainan said there has been less of a rush to marry, with the normalising of cohabitation and premarital sex. She noted that the DOS data shows almost 80 per cent of women in their 40s are married, possibly indicating that people are pushing back marriage rather than not marrying at all.

"People still think highly of the marriage institution, even idealise what a happy married life should be. You should have a comfortable home, comfortable income, and be equal partners, both as breadwinners as well as homemakers. But unless they can achieve it, they'd rather postpone it."

Digital marketer Lisa, 34, has been in a relationship for 14 years with her boyfriend J.M., a programmer, and lived together for a decade.

While she knew several years ago that she wanted to spend her life with J.M., she felt there was no rush to marry as they did not want to have children. She did not want to give their full names.

She said they come from dysfunctional families affected by divorce or unhappy marriages, which has shaped their views on marriage and having children.

"We don't see marriage as a way to bind commitment to each other. And we think that a strong relationship is one where you choose to stay together even if you don't have a piece of paper that binds you together."

Still, they may tie the knot in 2025 for practical reasons, such as to look after each other in medical emergencies.

"We had to, over time, build our definition of a relationship that we think is good for both of us. So that's why we have taken longer than people who came from stable families," she said.

They have embarked on "slow travel", spending several months in places such as Japan and South Korea so far, while continuing their remote jobs and documenting their adventures and travel hacks on Instagram at livingsmall.ig

Lisa said they may have children when they are at a stage where they can "focus on giving to the child - I see having kids as a meaningful way to give to another individual". But not now, during their long-term travels, which are in preparation for a longer stay abroad.

She is confident that little will change between her and J.M. when they marry and have a child.

"We know how each other functions in a house environment. He doesn't slack off on the chores. In fact, he's very neat and organised. So I think that even if we have kids, it will be another life project that we are pursuing together."

She added: "We both contribute to each other's growth as individuals. And he's always there to support me throughout all phases of life. I have no doubt that he will continue to do so."

Singles interviewed by ST also spoke about the challenges of finding suitable partners on dating apps.

Ms Joyce Lim, 34, said she had no luck with the 25 men she met over six years from such apps, and was scarred by three of her former boyfriends cheating on her.

"I had no vibes with a couple of them and we were not compatible. Some ghosted for no reason, and some are just casual dating. I would say, more often than not, the guys are the not-so-serious ones. Or maybe I'm just not the one they want to be serious with," she said.

"Even if a guy or girl is serious, there are many choices. They tend to pick and choose as well. It's very easy for people to be the second option."

The digital marketing manager, who is close to her three elder brothers, also single, hopes to buy a resale flat when she becomes eligible in 2025.

She is signing up for social mixers in the hope of meeting someone offline. "At this point in life, I would want someone to add value to my life rather than someone who would disrupt it," she added.

"I would want to have a relationship where time is well spent together, and we motivate each other to do better in life."

Finding the right person to commit to is also important to Mr Sham Raaj Elansharan. The 29-year-old said marriage is not on his mind as he has not met anyone suitable.

Nor does he have the energy for a relationship now, as he is busy running two muay thai gyms, he said.

"I feel like there are a lot of things that I want to accomplish that I haven't done so yet. I don't see that I have the capacity in me now to be able to do it right."


He is focusing on his career and wants to leave a legacy of helping troubled youth from single-parent families, like himself, succeed.

"Whatever circumstances you were born into do not undermine how great you can be," he said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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