Singapore—In a commentary for Bloomberg Opinion, writer Daniel Moss, who writes regularly about Asian economies, predicts that Singapore in the future will be “small and rich.”
The writer means “small” in reference to the country’s population as well as family sizes, and what he means by “rich” needs no explanation.
A campaign from the 1970s to encourage Singaporeans, especially women, to delay marriage and keep family sizes small had worked all too well, according to Mr Moss, as Singapore saw its family size of at least four children shrink.
This was necessary since founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew believed that a decreased birth rate was the key to getting rid of poverty, improving both healthcare and education, and providing reasonably priced public housing. “Survival depended upon family planning,” Mr Moss writes.
But today, the situation in Singapore has changed a great deal, with its total fertility rate falling to 1.1 last year, called a “historic low” by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Indranee Rajah last month.
To incentivize more births, the Government is now subsidizing reproductive technology treatments and is giving hefty bonuses when couples have babies, with more incentives likely to come.
However, the writer then pivots to a warning, noting “a certain inevitability: Singapore’s economic star was destined to fade long before its demographic challenges manifested”.
The factors that made the country, along with other East Asian economies, wealthy was “a rare surge in the workforce and investment, which would eventually dissipate,” he wrote.
From the 60s to the 90s, per capita income roughly doubled every decade, the gross domestic product rose 8.5 per cent per year, and employment, as well as education rates, soared.
And what would have maintained growth—more immigration— has become a hot-button topic especially after last year’s general election.
Mr Moss quoted Lee Kuan Yew, who acknowledged Singaporeans’ reservations concerning admitting immigrants.
In his 2013 book, “One Man’s View of the World,” he wrote, “Do we face up to reality and accept that some immigrants are necessary, or do we simply allow Singapore to shrink, age and lose vitality?”
However, there are already solutions present in Singaporean society to combat a declining population, such as using more robots and automation.
Ultimately, Mr Moss acknowledges that smaller families are an outgrowth of the prosperity that Singapore has developed, and enjoyed, over the past decades, with most households having dual incomes.
The culture of competitiveness has also strengthened the drive to raise children who are high achievers in schools, with tuition centres found everywhere.
To end his commentary, Mr Moss paints a picture of what he deems a typical Sunday afternoon for a Singaporean family: “For an updated understanding of modern family friction, a more instructive exercise would be to camp out at the Forum mall on Orchard Road, one of the country’s most iconic streets. On a Sunday afternoon, you can join throngs of families shuttling one or two kids between ballet, music, Taekwondo and gym classes while trying to avoid vegan ice cream shops and the Toys “R” Us store on the third floor. Singaporeans may be content with fewer kids, but they’re sure ready to spend a lot on them. Welcome to the smaller, richer future.”
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