This was my response to a REACHSingapore Facebook post on what challenges Singapore faces in the future:
To me, the greatest threat to our continued prosperity and well-being as a nation is our ever-deteriorating fertility rate, which currently stands at an abysmal 1.19. It doesn’t matter how technologically advanced you are, how impressive your airport is or how capable your government. If your country turns into one big old folks’ home, you are finished.
The government has done a good job providing tangible encouragement to get married and have babies. It has brought down the price of new HDB flats effectively and enhanced childcare subsidies on top of the existing Baby Bonus and other incentives.
But our government has the same weakness as the nation as a whole – high IQ, low EQ. It does not understand well the intangible factors that are impeding marriage and procreation. The workaholic culture, the obsession with higher standards every year (which creates ever-intensifying stress both in school and at work), the ‘kiasu’ mentality that puts grades and career advancement ahead of everything else and the erosion of the traditional role of the woman as the nurturing wife and mother.
On the last point, I know I am being controversial but I mean no offence. Traditionally, our girls were raised to be good wives and mothers, to cook and care for the home. Today they are raised only to study and earn money. Even our boys are not raised to prioritise marriage and parenthood. Hence young Singaporeans of both sexes treat marriage as a matter of low priority, and delay marriage further and further (and subsequently, childbirth). At some point, if you miss the boat for love, it might not return; more procrastinating Singaporeans will not get married at all. Those who do have fewer and fewer children.
Among those aged 30-34, 39 percent of the males and 26 percent of the females remained single in 2013, compared to 33 percent and 20 percent respectively in 2003. The trend is truly alarming, especially considering that most women’s fertility falls quickly after the age of 30.
If we do not apply both strong IQ and EQ to this existential threat to our nation and adopt a whole-of-society, whole-of-nation approach, we will fade into oblivion as a nation. We need to do some serious collective soul-searching as a nation about what our values and priorities ought to be; and how to create a new balance between them.
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