SINGAPORE: Babies used to be “profit centres”, now they are “cost centres”. That was one of the explanations offered on Reddit for Singapore’s low birth rate. Another explanation offered: Singapore is a city; villagers produce more babies. Diverse indeed were the views expressed when a Redditor asked, “Is Singapore really doing all it can to improve the problem with low birth rates?”

The Redditor wrote many of his friends had already been married for a few years and thinking of having children but were concerned about “the sheer cost of raising a child in SG”.

“I’m not familiar with policies surrounding the matter but watching from a distance, it’s always something that’s intrigued me,” the post author added. “Given the general affluence of our country, and the vast amount of funds we have in our reserves, why doesn’t the government simply throw more money at the problem?”

Money was not the solution, countered a fellow Redditor. “People say they would have kids if they could afford it. But, statistically, poorer nations have more kids and poorer people have more kids. In agricultural societies, people have kids because those are good sources of economic labour for their farm. Kids in a developed urbanized society are an economic drain to the individual parents.  Add in women’s education, women’s financial independence, and the availability of birth = women can choose not to have kids. Add in the decline of religion, and people no longer feel they should have kids to be virtuous people.”

“All valid points,” said a third commentator. “But pro-natalist social policies mean the difference between holding the TFR around 1.5-2.0 (like in the Nordic countries) and -1.10 like the developed Asian countries.

“I think the government should throw some money at the problem,” agreed another Redditor. “Totally free health care, education, child care, student care, etc. Government probably shouldn’t be literally throwing money at parents, though. If the amount is big enough, some people might be stupid enough to have babies for the sake of money. And I think those people tend not to be good parents. That said, money is only one of the many factors. WLB [work life balance] is often the biggest one.”

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“I’m a parent,” commented another, “and my experience is it’s cheap to be a parent if you’re looking for the basics. Basic milk powder, basic food, polyclinic visits – these are all affordable. It’s expensive when you want to zhng up your kid. Enrichment lessons… private doctor. Etc. If you are a middle class parent, there is tremendous (social/internal) pressure to provide that high-cost experience. I tracked my expenses, and if I gave the basic experience to my kid, I would have made a profit after the government cash grant (for the first two years). But that’s just the financial aspect. There’s also the social aspect (time taken to look after the kid, career concerns, etc). Those can’t be solved with money.”

“Even if the government does decide to subsidise parents a bit more, it is hard to tell if more couples would want kids,” said another netizen. “Because such costs include freedom of time and availability of energy. Having said that, I support giving more help to parents (including single parents). Having kids requires strong long-term commitments. Because it used to be a village raising kid. Now, it’s a couple.”

Another Redditor agreed, “My sense is that money will not entice those who have decided not to have kids because of lifestyle choice or other reasons. In the late 1980s, the government did throw money at graduate mothers with sizeable amounts but it did not move the needle. Those who want to have kids will have kids and they will know how to make ends meet. Less expensive car, less spending on dinner and drinks, etc. Investing in the kids. Of course, they will appreciate any extra money thrown their way. Only thing left is for immigration of young foreigners to cover the replacement rate and carry the burden of supporting the elderly.”

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Low birth rate is a problem widespread among developed countries, said another commenter, who said: “With education, the perception of the role/rights of children as well as the options/opportunities for their parents change and, with it, the incentive to have more kids decline. In particular, kids that were previously profit centres (source of elderly support, additional labour) are now seen as cost centres (childcare, medical, education) because people are more keen/aware how to raise them ‘right’ in terms of time and money. Moneywise, I’m not sure what else really will move the needle in a prudent fashion. Also, many of us can “afford” to have kids but have no time to be with them.”

But while a low birth rate is a common problem among developed nations, “Singapore is doing much worse than many other developed nations,” said a Redditor. “While not at replacement rate, the TFR of Nordic countries is significantly better than ours. Among them, one of their lowest TFR is 1.3 and that is Sg’s TFR more than 20 years ago.”

“Singapore’s TFR is lower than that of other nations because you’re comparing a city’s TFR with that of a national TFR,” pointed out another commenter. “National TFRs are higher because they include rural areas which don’t have as many factors lowering fertility rates as compared to urban areas. If you look at data from Finland, their rural TFR is 2.29 while their inner urban TFR is only 1.1, not too far off from Singapore’s 1.05.”

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Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR) reached a historic low of 1.04 in 2022.

Another netizen claimed, “The government is importing instant citizens, instant available taxation, increased demand for housing, services and revenue, leading to increase in GDP. And population growth achieved without spending decades on schooling and subsidies for local born. Why worry about political ramifications when instant citizens will always be grateful to be here and will vote for the ruling party that gave them citizenship. Locals seeing runaway property prices are more than happy to close their eyes to the cost of living issues with population growth. After all, their HDBs are worth millions now or in the near future.”

“I’m a parent,” said another Redditor. “To be honest, cost is not a super barrier, not that me and my wife have high income, we’re average or below SG average. But we’re not luxury driven and we know having 2 kids would mean sacrifices in our lifestyle. The main issue, based on my experience, is that we marry late. I marry in my late 30s, my wife in mid-30s, it’s not really easy to get a child for older couples. So, maybe a work life balance, promoting marriage before chasing your career is frankly the more effective way. Lol for me, I wasn’t even chasing my career, I was just being easy going until I realise that I’m getting old man.”