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To boost fertility rate, making it a national mission and carving distinct S’porean identity will be key

In most of the developed world, rising prosperity has led to a decline in fertility.

A TODAY reader says not enough has been done to make fertility an important national mission in the minds of Singaporeans.

A TODAY reader says not enough has been done to make fertility an important national mission in the minds of Singaporeans.

In most of the developed world, rising prosperity has led to a decline in fertility. 

There is much pessimism surrounding Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR), which fell to a low of 1.1 last year

An ideal TFR is said to be 2.1, the rate at which a population replaces itself from one generation to the next. 

Sub-replacement fertility rates are not unique to Singapore and have been observed in developed societies around the world, including Japan (with a TFR of 1.36) and South Korea (TFR 0.84). 

Many believe that this is the inevitable result of rising incomes and education, which cause young people to focus more on their careers, and get married and have children later. 

It is assumed that the best we can hope for is to slow the decline, and that we have no choice but to rely on other sources of population growth. 

Since 2000, Singapore’s population has grown by almost 50 per cent, fuelled by immigration. This has brought its challenges and tensions, leading some to question whether it is sustainable.

But must we be resigned to the fact that our TFR alone will never be enough to support a growing population and economy? 

The Israeli experience suggests otherwise. 

In 2019, Israel’s TFR was 3.1, based on World Bank data — well above the replacement rate of 2.1. 

Much like Singapore, it is a developed country with high income and education levels. 

It also has compulsory military service that delays marriage and fertility. By some measures, Israelis even face higher living costs than we do. 

Yet their TFR has never dropped below 2.7. Indeed, gains to fertility at older ages have compensated for people choosing to have children later, and comparatively high fertility rates persist across all educational levels. 

How have they succeeded where so many other countries have failed? 

Researchers have suggested that financial and material factors have less of an effect on fertility in Israel than cultural factors. In particular, they point to the continuing importance of marriage and family as well as a strong sense of national identity and purpose.

This is not to say that there is a simple panacea to our population woes. 

Rather, it shows that it is possible for a developed country to sustain natural population growth, and that the cultural element can be crucial. 

While efforts have been made to encourage a family-oriented society, not enough has been done to make fertility an important national mission in the minds of Singaporeans. 

Responsibility for this mission can come only through ownership. This means promoting a distinct Singaporean identity that is invested in the success of the country. 

An identity which recognises that just as the country belongs to us, so too does its future, and thus, the responsibility for making that future a reality. 

Singapore manages to defy the odds in many ways. Forging a path to natural population growth will not be easy, but it is possible. 

Have views on this issue or a news topic you care about? Send your letter to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number.

Related topics

total fertility rate population culture identity Israel

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