Singapore’s low birth rates, Singaporeans marrying late, and Singapore learning from Japan in coping with its ageing population are among the lead themes being discussed during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Singapore.
Also given emphasis during the two countries’ celebration was the need for Singapore and Japan to work closely together in addressing vital developments in the midst of global uncertainties, as well as learn from each other while they tackle issues common to both societies.
An ageing society
A major area that Singapore needs learn from is Japan’s ageing population, which the Republic will have to face in about 15 years.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said birth rates in Singapore need to go up first so that the population can grow “a little bit”. This was so as Singapore is providing opportunities by building new amenities to accommodate more people.
“We have so many plans for Singapore, in terms of new industries, new businesses, new schools, new opportunities, new towns to live in, new parks — a new society to be built for the next generation,” PM Lee said. “And what we need are new people — our children,” he stressed.
Singapore’s population may start to decline if the birth rates do not improve in four to five years. PM Lee highlighted that women in Singapore do not marry young, and put their careers first.
This is despite infrastructure put in place to help them cope with parenthood, such as infant care, preschool and daycare amenities that have been built up.
He said: “Our challenge is that one-third of young people do not marry very soon even until their mid-30s.” Singaporeans also typically do not have children before marriage, he said.
“And if they are working, they have to assess the impact on their careers and whether they can manage their children while at work at the same time,” PM Lee added.
“Many mothers do, but some feel that this — I can well understand — is not easy to achieve.”
What to learn from Japan
PM Lee said that with around 35,000 Singaporeans born and 35,000 new permanent residents — of which some 20,000 become citizens — the population is still growing slightly.
Today, Japan is being confronted with a declining population where one in three Japanese are seniors, within the next 15 to 20 years.
PM Lee noted that Japan enjoyed a vibrant economy and its stock market was booming more than 25 years ago, but later suffered when its bubble burst. Japan’s economy has since achieved stability.
He also said Singapore needs to learn to cater to older people in the workforce and will observe how Japanese companies have adapted their practices in this area.
PM Lee said: “Your companies have been very good at adjusting the jobs, the requirements, even the technology, so that old people can be productive and keep on working. We need to do a lot of that.”
Singapore is doing better?
However, according to ageing expert Professor Hiroko Akiyama, Singapore is doing a much better job at tackling the problem.
For one thing, Singapore had a head-start in planning for an ageing population. On this front, Singapore has been pushing hard to keep seniors active and engaged in their community. The Action Plan for Successful Ageing has outlined key initiatives that is aimed at keeping seniors meaningfully engaged across a range of activities, from volunteer work, working longer and returning to school to pick up new skills.
The social psychologist from the Institute of Gerontology at University of Tokyo says another reason is that Singapore has a more open approach to immigration.
For one thing, the ageing population means that the workforce is gradually shrinking. Allowing for foreigners to take up the jobs that are not being filled will continue to sustain the economy. At the same time, foreign talent also injects new sources of innovation and entrepreneurship into the economy.
“I think Singapore is doing an amazing job of attracting highly-skilled and highly talented foreign labour which is not just a boon for the economy but for the population as well especially with the inter-marriages and integration of migrants into the country,” she says.
Japan, on the other hand, has a much more restrictive policy towards foreigners. It is difficult for a foreigner to work in Japan, and if they do get a job, it tends to be on a limited basis, she says. This in turn will have major implications on the Japanese economy.
“When it comes to integrating foreigners into the country, Japan is still quite a far way off from Singapore. Naturally, this is further adding pressure onto its already rapidly declining population,” says Prof Hiroko.
For the ageing expert, Singapore is generally an elderly-friendly nation and it is continuously trying to be one.