For years, the government have been scratching their heads, wondering why the Baby Bonus is doing nothing to encourage couples to have more kids.
In their latest bid to raise the birth rate, they’ve promised a shorter wait for BTO flats. After all, isn’t the high cost of living one of the biggest reasons nobody wants to procreate, and shouldn’t the handouts be doing something to defray the cost?
Seems that’s not enough. Here are three other concerns couples have about bringing a child into the world.
Back in the 90s, if you walked down Orchard Road in the afternoon, you’d see many kids in school uniforms hanging around at Far East Plaza, Cineleisure and Takashimaya Square.
Times have changed, and kids these days seem like little beasts of burden. The tuition industry has swelled into one that’s worth over a billion dollars, and kiasu parenting has been taken to the extreme.
Being a child in Singapore no longer seems like fun, at least to the many young couples who’re feeling apprehensive about having kids.
Helen, a 33-year-old MOE teacher and mother of a 2-year-old boy, laments that the pressure cooker education system does not a happy child make. She and her husband, who’s an Australian citizen, are considering migrating when their son reaches primary school age.
Energy and time
Quite a bit has been done to improve the affordability of having kids, but that doesn’t address the fact that they are many well-heeled professionals who choose not to have kids or limit themselves to one child simply because they can’t afford the energy and time commitment of having more.
Singapore workplaces are still very family-unfriendly by any standards. Now, we’re not saying to go full-on Scandinavian welfare state and start letting people knock off at 4pm and collect two years of paid maternity leave.
But we don’t have to go to the other extreme where we are right now, with employers that value face-time above all else and some of the world’s longest working hours. No surprise, then, that we also have one of the world’s lowest birth rates.
The government has been taking tentative steps towards trying to nudge companies to become more family-friendly, such as by introducing the Work-Life Grant and letting some civil servants work staggered hours and from home, hoping the private sector will follow suit. But this is clearly not having much of an effect on local employers.
The problem is that a family-friendly mindset needs to be extended to all employees and not just family men/women for this to work. And that requires a big mindset shift that many employers are too set in their ways to make.
Irene, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mother of a young daughter, says she would not have considered having kids if her husband wasn’t earning enough for her to look after their child full-time.
The former bank operations executive says, “There are very few serious part-time or flexible work options here. I have the choice of either working for $8/hour doing admin, or not working,” she laments.
Trade-offs of having kids
It’s normal for any society to experience a falling birthrate as it becomes more economically developed. We don’t exactly need those young hands to work on farms right now. And while our birth rate looks low compared to, say, Japan as a country, when compared with other dense cities like, say, Hong Kong, we’re more or less on par.
Instead of throwing in the towel and insisting that we’re doomed to becoming extinct because it’s natural for a densely populated city with a developed economy, it would be better to look at the factors that are discouraging people from having kids.
Of particular relevance is the growing attractiveness of the DINK (dual income, no kids) lifestyle.
When given a choice between having kids and working way past retirement age, or retiring earlier as a DINK couple, which would you choose? Would you rather buy a 3-room flat you’d pay for for 10 years, or have kids and then have to take out a 30 year mortgage for a 5-room flat? Would you rather spend your 3 hours of free time per day picking up new hobbies and hanging out with friends, or rushing home to pick your kid up from childcare?
While these are questions any couple in any society might have to ask to some extent, in Singapore the difference between the choices is much starker. Here, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Jon, a 32-year-old engineer who’s in a long-term relationship, falls firmly into the child-free camp.
“My partner and I have limited free time after work. Sometimes I’m so tired after work I don’t have the energy to do anything. A child would drive us to the point of exhaustion. We also want to retire early, and that would not be possible with a child since we are not exactly millionaires,” he says.
What other concerns do couples considering children have? Tell us in the comments!
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