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What low birth rates mean for Singapore

Publication Date : 10-10-2012


If Singapore does not raise its birth rate, the number of grandchildren of today's generation will shrink by two-thirds - and will still have to support their parents and grandparents.

Apart from the increased burden tomorrow's generations will face, the shrinking citizen population will also mean a shrinking local workforce. So, while efforts are being made to get more Singaporeans to reproduce, immigrants are needed fill the gap to maintain the Singapore core.

This is the crux of the nation's population challenge as laid out by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in a speech that was delivered at the start of last night's forum, but also appeared to wrap up a debate that has dominated dialogues in past months.

In a speech to about 220 participants, he painted a stark picture of what could happen.

"If our birth rates stay at 1.2, and we don't have immigration, our citizen population will start to decline from 2025," he said. "With all of us doing our part, I hope our birth rate can increase... maybe, at least, to 1.4 or 1.5," he added, noting that Singapore had such rates just 10 or so years ago.

"Of course, I think it would be very good if our birth rate was higher than 1.5, but it will take time to change this, and we will need a really huge effort. But I hope one day, we will get there."

The minister in charge of population matters said the government would do its part to encourage Singaporeans to get married and have more children. These included pro-marriage and parenthood policies and measures, which he said the Government is looking at enhancing.

But Teo also stressed the need for society to enhance a family-friendly culture. "We have to strive to create a supportive and conducive environment for raising children, and we hope couples will make the decision to start a family, even if circumstances don't quite fit their expectations completely or perfectly."

At the same time, he highlighted the need for some 20,000 new immigrants a year to keep the citizen population stable.

Many will come from marriages between Singaporeans and foreign spouses - which accounted for four in 10 marriages last year, or 9,000 marriages - and others, adults in their prime working years and families.

"We select those who are able to contribute to Singapore, and to integrate into our society," said Teo, even as he acknowledged that many Singaporeans were worried about integrating them into society here.

But he expressed confidence that this would happen over time in an immigrant society known for turning diversity into strength. "We are united, not by where we are born, but by the values we live by and a common desire to want to make Singapore, our home, better."


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