Journal of Population and Social Security (Population), Supplement to Volume 1

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Fertility and Population Policy: the Singapore Experience Mui Teng Yap

Introduction Singapore has long been known for its use of social policies to influence fertility/reproductive behaviour. This began in the late 1960s/early 1970s and continues to the present, although the demographic objective has changed from anti-natalist to selectively pro-natalist. The turning point came in the mid-1980s after about a decade of below-replacement level fertility. The impetus must have been the results of the 1980 census, which showed that the better-educated women were not replacing themselves while the lower educated “over-reproduced”. The better-educated women were, moreover, more likely to remain single. The then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, was as concerned about the quality of the population as the quantity1. Incentives were introduced to encourage the bettereducated mothers to have at least three children. On 1 March 1987, the then First Deputy Prime Minister (and current Prime Minister) Mr Goh Chok Tong announced the replacement of the two-child policy which had been in effect since 1972 with the “three, or more if you can afford it” policy, together with a package of procreation incentives. These incentives have been modified and added on to over the years, most recently with the government giving out “baby bonuses” for second and third births and picking up the tab for paid maternity leave for third births. As in the past, the government feels that while marriage and family sizes are private matters, there are important larger societal consequences that concern the survival of Singapore which justify intervention – even as it also recognises the dismal record of procreation incentives elsewhere (see Lien 2002)2. The section that follows provides a backgrounder on Singapore’s demographic landscape and its transition from extremely high fertility (exceeding six children per woman) to well below replacement level. This is followed by a presentation of the measures introduced to date to address the problem of persistent low fertility, and finally, an impact assessment and prognosis for the future. Demographic Trends and Patterns Singapore is a small island city-state with a land area of about 682 sq km. The total population of about 4.16 million (as at mid-2002) comprises about 3.38 1 Lee Kuan Yew (1983), “Talent for the Future”. Prepared text delivered at the National Day Rally on 14 August 1983. Reproduced as Appendix A, pp 39-46, in Saw Swee Hock (1990), Changes in the Fertility Policy of Singapore, IPS Occasional Paper No. 2, Singapore: Times Academic Press for the Institute of Policy Studies. 2 Laurence Lien (2002), Marriage and Procreation: To Intervene or Not – A Policy-making Perspective. Paper presented at the International Workshop on Fertility Decline, Below Replacement Fertility and the Family in Asia: Prospects, Consequences and Policies, organised by the Asian MetaCentre for Sustainable Development Analysis and the Family Studies Research Programme, National University of Singapore, Singapore, 10-12 April 2002.

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Journal of Population and Social Security (Population), Supplement to Volume 1

million citizens and permanent residents, and 785,400 foreigners. Reflecting the history of in-migration, the population is multi-racial in composition, with 77% Chinese, 14% Malays, 8% Indians and about 1% Others (see Leow 2001 for ethnic classification)3. The three major ethnic groups differ significantly in terms of their demographic and other socioeconomic characteristics. For example, the Malays have the highest fertility rate and the largest family sizes and the Chinese the lowest, with the Indians occupying an intermediate position. On the other hand, the Chinese as a group has the highest level of socioeconomic attainment, followed by the Indians and the Malays, in rank order. This diversity makes population planning more much complex, and perhaps more interesting. There were reportedly 150 people (120...
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