Facing declining population, Singapore encourages more babies

Much has been made in recent years about the strict control of family size in Asian countries like China, where most married couples are only allowed to have one child.

But in the Asian country of Singapore, government officials find themselves facing the exact opposite dilemma.

Singapore, a small island city-state in Southeast Asia, has seen a steady decrease in the number of births in recent years, according to a recent story in Asia One News. In 2009, just 39,654 children were born in Singapore, 170 fewer than in 2008.

More significantly, the fertility rate (the average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime) has dropped from 1.6 in 2000 to 1.28 in 2008. The fertility rate needed for a population to replace itself is 2.1.

This trend has the government in Singapore scrambling to encourage families to have more children. Among the baby-boosting measures include cash incentives, increased child-care leave, and a longer maternity leave of four months, up from the prior two-month period.

So far, however, these measures have not succeeded in reversing the trend of decreased fertility and an aging population, which government officials see as leading to decreased economic productivity.

But according to Tan Ern Ser, an Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore, increased productivity could actually help keep the fertility rate low.

"Ironically, the people who could afford to have children see having children as involving high opportunity costs; while many who can ill-afford to have children see them as a good investment for the future,” he said.

Singapore is not alone in the battle against decreasing population. Several other Asian countries are facing similar problems, including South Korea, whose government health ministry office recently shut its lights at 7 p.m. to encourage employees to go home and make more babies.

(Please read comment policy before commenting)