A screenshot of birth rates from various countries from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was shared on the Singapore reddit page on Saturday (10 October) which shows Singapore’s birth rate at a meagre 0.87 as of 2020.
The image shows Singapore as being 228 on the list with the lowest birth rates in the world, even below Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan. The number, 0.87, essential means that there is 0.87 births for every woman in Singapore.
A quick check on the CIA website shows that this information is listed in the Agency’s World Factbook.
However, according to SingStat, Singapore’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is at 1.14 per one female.
Based on the SingStat website, the TFR refers to the average number of live-births each female would have during the reproductive years if she were subject to the prevailing Age Specific Fertility Rate (ASFR) in the population in the given year. This works out to five times the sum of the ASFRs by 5-yearly age groups, over the female reproductive ages for the reference period.
(I wish I could tell you I know exactly what that means.)
Conversely, the CIA website notes that their TFR “compares figures for the average number of children that would be born per woman if all women lived to the end of their childbearing years and bore children according to a given fertility rate at each age.”
To my untrained eyes, that sounds to be about the same method of calculation as SingStat. So why are the figures different?
One reddit user suggested that the difference could be because the CIA includes all women in Singapore in their calculation including foreign domestic workers who will not have children in Singapore, while SingStat looks at only resident women—these are citizens and permanent residents.
Another person suggested that they TFRs be compared at the city-level as most cities would likely have a similarly low birth rate.
The reddit thread received a flood of comments from users who pointed out that among the main reasons people in Singapore are opting not to have many children or any children at all is due to the high cost of living and how expensive it would be to raise a child in the city-state, which is one of the most expensive cities in the world.
They also highlighted that children are also an investment beyond material costs, meaning couples would have to sacrifice their time and possibly their ambitions as well in order to raise children. It seems many do not wish to do that.
One commenter pointed out the ‘Stop at 2’ policy implemented back in the 1980’s, saying that that is enough and is a “good balance”. Although, that comment received a reply saying that people should have three children instead in order to support the birth rate.
Another person remarked that while Singapore’s ‘Stop at 2’ policy was not as severe as China’s one child policy, it certain contributed to the discouragement to have more babies.
One user suggested that the government lacks “creativity or thoughtfulness” in the policies and incentives it has implemented to encourage families to have more children, specifically referring to the recent Pandemic Baby Bonus which isn’t exactly a long-term plan to address the low TFR.