Parliamentary reply by DPM Teo Chee Hean on plans to encourage Singaporeans to have more children
THIRTEENTH PARLIAMENT OF SINGAPORE
MONDAY 10 SEP 2018
Mr Alex Yam Ziming:
To ask the Prime Minister (a) what plans are being considered to encourage Singaporeans to have more children in light of the 2017 birth rates being at a seven-year low; and (b) whether the Government has studied the main reasons leading to (i) later marriages (ii) later age for first child and (iii) smaller families.
Mr Teo Chee Hean (for the Prime Minister):
Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR) had been around 1.2 in recent years, but fell to 1.16 in 2017. This fall in TFR is in part due to a demographic shift in our population. A relatively large cohort of young Singaporeans, many of whom are children of the “baby boomers” born between 1988 and 1998, are just entering the peak childbearing ages between the ages of 25 and 39.
For birth and population trends, beyond yearly variations, it is useful to look at longer time periods.In the last five years since 2013, which was when the oldest cohort of “echo baby boomers” first turned 25 years old, we have seen a slight uptick in the average number of births compared to the preceding five-year period (from 2008 to 2012). At the same time, compared to earlier cohorts, many of these “echo baby boomers” are not yet married or have not yet started having children. When this cohort starts having children, and as the younger “echo baby boomers” (currently aged between 20 and 24 years) enter their peak childbearing years, we are hopeful that the number of births will increase. Our TFR could correspondingly improve.
While our birth rates have fallen, it is encouraging that the number of resident marriages has risen – from 25,927 in 2016 to 26,348 in 2017, higher than the average of the past decade of about 25,000 resident marriages. The increase in marriages could translate to more births in the coming years, as young couples build their families.
Indeed, our surveys show that Singaporeans’ aspirations to get married and have children remain strong. The 2016 Marriage and Parenthood (M&P) Survey indicated that more than 8 in 10 (83%) of single Millennials (aged 21-35) want to get married, and more than 9 in 10 (92%) of married Millennials want at least two children.
However, young Singaporeans have other life goals as well. With better education and career opportunities, some decide to delay marriage and starting a family, in order to first fulfil other aspirations. From the same survey, half of the single Millennials (54%) indicated that they wanted to focus on their career and studies before marrying.
These factors have contributed to the trends highlighted by Mr Alex Yam, with Singaporeans getting married and having children later, and subsequently having smaller families. From 2006 to 2016, the median age of Singaporean women at first marriage increased from 26.7 to 28.0 years, and the median age of mothers at first birth increased from 29.4 to 30.3 years.
Nonetheless, there are other reasons for cheer. A small but growing number of couples in Singapore are choosing to have larger families. 2,118 babies born in 2017 were the fourth or higher birth-order child, the highest in the past five years.
Marriage and parenthood are ultimately personal decisions, and the reasons and timing for getting married and having children vary across couples. The Government cannot interfere with people’s personal decisions, but we can and will continue to encourage Singaporeans to get married and have children, and to help them with strong support when they do.
We have invested significant resources in the Marriage and Parenthood Package over the past 17 years, to better support Singaporeans at every stage of their marriage and parenthood journey. In line with the feedback we have received, we are doing more in the three key areas of housing, pre-school and workplace support.
Housing. Many couples aspire to own their homes before they start a family. To help them, HDB has launched more than 50,000 new BTO flats since 2015, with priority allocation for first-timers. To provide faster access to housing, HDB will launch 1,100 flats with shorter waiting times of 2.5 years in the next few months, and another batch of 2,000 in 2019. HDB has also been more flexible to allow deferment of income assessment for housing loans and grants till before keys collection. This would benefit young couples who are studying or serving National Service, and are ready to settle down earlier in life.
Pre-school. Many parents cite finding good caregiving options and financial costs as key concerns when having children. One of our key priorities is to ensure more affordable and quality preschool places, to give parents peace of mind that their children are well taken care of while they are at work.
The Government is committed to ensuring that every parent who wants a preschool place for their child will be able to have one. ECDA is enhancing the provision of affordable and quality infant and child care, with 40,000 more places to be added in the next five years. MOE will set up more MOE kindergartens (MKs), with a target of 50 MKs by 2023. As announced by Minister Desmond Lee in July, we are also reviewing our preschool subsidy framework to improve affordability for parents.
Work-life support. We recognise that more Singaporeans want to fulfil their career aspirations even as they build their families.We are doing more to support them in managing their work and family responsibilities. In particular, parental leave provisions have been progressively enhanced over the years, including improved leave support for fathers to play a more active role in caring for their children. Last year, we made the second week of Paternity Leave mandatory, and increased Shared Parental Leave from one to four weeks. In total, fathers can now tap on up to eight weeks of leave to care for their children in the first year of birth.
Over the past year, we have also launched two Tripartite Standards to encourage more family-friendly workplaces – one on Flexible Work Arrangements, and another on Unpaid Leave for Unexpected Care Needs. To date, about 880 employers have signed up to the Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements, and 290 employers to that on Unpaid Leave for Unexpected Care Needs. We have also launched the enhanced Work-Life Grant in July, to better encourage the adoption of flexible work arrangements by employees. We will work with tripartite partners to encourage more companies to adopt the Tripartite Standards and Work-Life Grant, so that they can better support their employees’ flexible working needs.
It is not enough for Government to act alone. For marriage and parenthood to be achievable, enjoyable and celebrated, the whole of society must come together to foster more family-friendly workplaces and communities. Employers and co-workers can play their part, by showing understanding and support if colleagues need time off to care for young children or aged parents. I was also heartened to hear that the Singapore University of Social Sciences has recently launched a Marriage and Baby Bonus Scheme, that offers each part-time adult student up to two free modules if they get married or have a child during their study. These efforts by the larger community go a long way in celebrating and supporting parenthood.
We have just celebrated our 53rd National Day a month ago. With the combined efforts of Government, employers, co-workers and the wider community, we can together make Singapore a Great Place for Families, for many more generations of Singaporeans to come.
 From 2013 to 2017, the total number of citizen births was 163,458, or an average of 32,692 per year. From 2008 to 2012, the total number of citizen births was 158,580, or an average of 31,716 per year.