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Why Singaporeans Aren’t Having Children (The Financial Reasons)

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Ryan Ong

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I never understood the whole “children are troublesome” argument. So they need to supervised, catered to, and have their diapers changed. They wake you up at four in the morning. They demand constant attention. How exactly is it different from having a boss? But the financial and career issues, now that I can understand. Here’s our take on those:

 

What’s the Problem With Our Fertility Rate?

Oh, just that we practically don’t have one. Our fertility rate is 0.79 (CIA factbook). Animals on the endangered species list probably feel sorry for us.

In 2012, 20.5% of married women (aged 30 to 39 according to the survey, because women never lie about their age) were childless. That’s up from 13.2% a decade ago. We’re also marrying later, and most women have children at the age of 30.

Now, I’m going to tiptoe around the cultural reasons; my sociology education was watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984. I’m going to look at the financial and career based reasons instead. And I speculate the main problems are:

  • We Don’t Know When We’re Financially Ready
  • Economic Darwinism
  • Housing
  • Workplace Culture

 

1. We Don’t Know When We’re Financially Ready

 

gold chain
And after this baby anklet, we’ll need a 20 year investment to buy the cot.

 

Quick question: How much do you think you need to earn, or have in assets, before trying to raise a child?

Now go and ask your parents how much they earned, when raising you. If you’re like most of the Singaporeans I’ve met, the answer will shock you. Even compensating for inflation, most of you would never dream of raising children on “such a small income”.

But what if I told you there are families that raise multiple children, on combined incomes of less than $3,000 a month?

Admit it: You’re imagining neglected children, beating each other to death over who gets the last cockroach sandwich. This despite the fact that such families do exist, and have happy children. Over the weekend, I spoke to Rosalind (not her real name), who raises two happy children on a single income of $2,700 a month:

At first, it frightened me to think of how much I had to give up. I already spent over $2,000 on myself every month, how to raise children some more?

But now I know it’s possible. As my child became the center of my world, all the things I used to buy to get satisfaction…movies, clothes, and so on, all that now went toward my child.

And a happy child gives her mother as much satisfaction as those other things used to. So I find that, even though there are many sacrifices, motherhood is not the horrible, impossible thing we like to say it is.”

(Note: This is NOT an endorsement for young women to randomly go out and have a child.)

 

Kids on a boat
“And when we go to Batam, mum and dad swim next to the ferry.”

 

It’s true that children are an expensive, lifelong commitment, like being an Apple fan. But Singaporeans often take that idea to an illogical extreme. Some of the people I interviewed listed the following as “requirements” for raising a child:

  • Combined income of $40,000+ per month
  • More than one car
  • Ability to buy property near prestigious schools
  • Necessity (not just option) of an overseas education

If you believe the opinion of most Singaporeans, Warren Buffet couldn’t afford to look after a four year old for a week in this country.

The fact is, Singaporeans are obsessed with being financially ready. And that pays off in many areas, like investments and business. But we don’t have a clear idea on how much it costs to raise a child. As such, our default estimate is “More than I can afford”.

 

2. Economic Darwinism

 

Girl picking flower
“And after she picked it, she charged the gardener $5.50 for freelance services. I’m so proud.”

 

In Singapore, we don’t believe in survival of the fittest. We believe in survival of the richest. Because as far we’re concerned, the two are the same. Our “meritocracy” is great for corporate competitiveness, and terrible for raising children.

Seriously, imagine teaching that crap in kindergarten: “What’s that Johnny? James got more toys than you? Well clearly he’s a winner and you’re a loser.”

We’re taught that this country’s a free market: If we can’t provide for ourselves and our families, that’s going to be our problem.

So we worry that, if we lose our jobs, there’s no safety net for the children. That if we don’t earn enough, our children won’t get to university, and will end up with low-income jobs. That if we fall seriously ill, we can’t rely on government aid for our kids.

The standard societal response to that is “You should have foreseen it and planned for it.”

Well we’re foreseeing it alright, and I’ll tell you how we’re planning for it: By not having children, that’s how. For as long we’re terrified of social welfare, we’ll also be terrified of raising families.

 

3. Housing

 

HDB flat seen through grille
At least there’s never vermin. The rats left because they felt claustrophobic.

 

Do we have space to raise children in? Well let’s see.

A couple applying for a BTO flat needs to wait two to three years. Not everyone can afford private property to move into immediately. That’s already one factor that delays childbirth. The other is what we consider “appropriate” housing.

As I said in point 1, many Singaporeans have extreme notions about what’s “required” for raising their child. Some believe it’s necessary to buy a resale flat near a good school, or that a five-room or landed property is the “only” appropriate space for a child to grow in (individual estimates vary).

Now unless you have the awareness of a cactus, you probably know Singapore property isn’t cheap. That’s why we’re always talking about getting the best property deals, comparing home loans (right here at SmartLoans.sg) and so forth. But while we can help with that, what we can’t change is this:

Singaporeans have high estimates of their family’s spatial needs. And in the current housing market, those needs cannot be met at an affordable price. Either we learn to tone down our expectations, or the property price index has to fall. Before then, no babies.

 

4. Workplace Culture

 

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“Playtime? I’m measuring responses to our ad campaign for next week.”

 

This is a country where we play golf at night. Where we eat supper at 1am, then go home and do the budget report. If you’re a foreigner, you’d be forgiven for thinking we like paperwork more than sex.

Remember what I said in point 2, about meritocracy? That same problem is at work here. Singaporeans feel guilty when we’re not at work. Even when we’re taking time off to care for our children. I spoke to HR consultant Angeline Seah:

Singaporeans for the most part are hard-working. I may accuse us of being inefficient, but never lazy. We’ve evolved a culture where we associate self-worth with the amount of output we produce.

You will notice, for example, that Singaporeans who work support jobs, such as in admin, are a little more shy about their jobs than their revenue-generating counterparts. We prefer the kind of jobs where we can say we closed so many deals, or we made so much money for the company this year, and so on.

So because we have this kind of culture, where our personal pride is bounded up with our work, we find it hard to put our work aside. We won’t leave the work in the office, and go spend time with our kids. Most of us can’t even go an hour without checking our e-mail.”

 

There are Other Reasons…

Obviously, I can’t cover this entire issue in a single blog post. These are just some of the main reasons why we won’t have children. And over the coming weeks, we’ll break things down into more detail.

What are the costs of childcare? The dollars and cents logic of being single? The healthcare aspects? Do follow us on Facebook, as we take a closer look.

In the meantime…why do YOU think Singaporeans aren’t having children? Comment and let us know! We’re especially interested in the financial and career aspects!

Image Credits:
madaboutasia, tiffa130, ngader, chongeileen, jerine, ngader

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.

  • RunningMan

    I wouldn’t be here that’s the point. Wouldn’t be having to deal with shitty boss and shitty experiences. Can you tell me what it was like to not exist. What it was like before you were born?

    No? Well you won’t be missing anything either, if you weren’t born to begin with. Since you would have absolutely no clue of such an existence. Moving on.

    Sure as hell there are good moments but if you are going to be a hypocrite and just focus on the short moments of joy and ignore the large amounts of discomfort.

    Then we have the right to be selfish and say. Screw this crap. I ain’t wasting time dealing with that. I have enough crap to deal with of my own.

  • RunningMan

    Why on earth. Would anyone born in a city choose to waste away their life on children? Because you have to do your duty to your country? Come up with a better argument will ya?

    While you are having sleepless nights trying to shut up your child. Those who don’t have kids are having sleepless nights partying. Such a tough choice to make am I right?

    Oh and the whole argument about. Well if your parents had thought the same. I would miss absolutely nothing. You know why? I will absolutely no idea of such existence to begin with. So how could I possible even miss it at all?

    Argument invalid. Enjoy your life people. Most of us don’t get enjoy having enough cash in our wallets till our mid to late 20s and only get to really live out in our 30s. So don’t waste your time on all these country before thyself propaganda and other what not propaganda.

    Enjoy yourselves and as far as the population goes? Well the government is already taking care of that with foreigners. You really think one or two additional true blood Singapore births is going to stop that now?

    So go enjoy. Live it up big. Peace.