Singapore’s birth rate, already in a steady decline, hit a record low in 2022, a development largely attributed to the city-state’s high cost of living, which analysts say discourages many from expanding their families. Despite government measures to reverse the trend, including financial perks for couples having children, experts argue that monetary incentives alone will not solve the problem, highlighting the need to address underlying socioeconomic factors.
Almost two decades ago, Loh and her husband, residents of Singapore, made a choice not to have children—a decision they stand by 17 years later. Their choice is reflective of a broader trend in Singapore, where the birth rate fell by 7.9% last year. The decrease is not only due to the city’s high living costs but also shifts in societal norms, with women choosing to have children later in life, or not at all. According to data from the Institute of Policy Studies, women between the ages of 20 and 24 are now less likely to give birth than women between 35 and 39 years old.
Singapore’s Declining Birth Rate: The High Cost of Living and its Impact on Family Choices
Singapore is experiencing a record low birth rate in 2022, following years of steady decline. The primary cause is the high cost of living in the bustling city-state, which discourages many from expanding their families, according to analysts. Despite government efforts to incentivize child-rearing, experts argue that financial solutions alone will not reverse the trend.
A Personal Decision
Nearly two decades ago, a 46-year-old tech worker named Loh and her husband decided not to have children. Today, they remain content with their choice. Many Singaporeans share their sentiments, leading to a record low birth rate in 2022, a 7.9% drop from the previous year. Although there was a slight increase in the birth rate to 1.12 from 1.1 during the Covid-19 lockdown, overall fertility trends indicate women choosing to have children later in life, or not at all. Data from the Institute of Policy Studies reveals that women aged 20 to 24 are now less likely to give birth than those aged 35 to 39.
The Money Factor
Singapore’s government has implemented various policies and incentives to encourage higher birth rates amidst an aging population. These include cash bonuses for each child born and an extension of paternity leave from two to four weeks. However, financial incentives alone may not be enough to tackle the issue, according to Wen Wei Tan, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit. Resolving the fertility rate problem requires addressing underlying systemic issues, fostering social cohesion, and promoting healthier attitudes towards risk-taking.
The High Cost of Living
Singapore was ranked the most expensive city to live in by the EIU in 2022, sharing the top spot with New York City. The high cost of living, coupled with skyrocketing house prices and delayed construction due to the pandemic, have made it increasingly difficult for young couples to own homes. The situation is further complicated by the high costs associated with raising children in Singapore. Consequently, many couples are choosing to remain DINKS ("dual income, no kids").
Career vs. Family
The rising cost of living has also led to a shift in mindset among women, with many choosing to prioritize their careers over starting a family. Delaying marriage and childbearing allows women to pursue higher education and establish themselves in their careers before considering family life.
Implications for the Labor Force
A declining birth rate, coupled with an aging population, will inevitably impact Singapore’s labor force. With fewer children to eventually join the workforce, tax revenues could decrease, exacerbating existing economic challenges. According to EIU’s Tan, a smaller workforce could lead to increased tax burdens and financial pressures, especially when considering the costs of caring for an aging population and raising a family.
Singapore’s declining birth rate underscores the wider societal and economic implications of high living costs in global cities. While government incentives can help, they are not a panacea. Solutions must address systemic issues and societal attitudes towards risk-taking and family life. As the trend of prioritizing careers over family continues, it’s critical to consider how this shift will shape the future workforce and economy.