Singapore: More Cash ≠ More Babies

Will a cash incentive make women want to have a child? Going by recent figures under Singapore’s recent Baby Bonus initiative, a government plan to raise declining birth rates in the country, the answer ostensibly is “no”.

According to news reports, S$230 million (about US$162.3 million) in baby bonuses were handed out by the Singaporean government in 2008, yet there appears to be no corresponding rise in the number of Singaporean babies born.

The Singapore government's website explains:

You will get a cash gift of up to $4,000 each for your 1st and 2nd child and $6,000 each for your 3rd and 4th child. All your children born on or after 17 August 2008 will also enjoy Government contributions in the form of a dollar-for-dollar matching for the amount of savings you contribute to your child’s Children Development Account (CDA). If your child is born before 17 August 2008, he or she will enjoy the Government matching contributions in the CDA if he or she is your second to fourth child.

The CDA is a special savings account that you open at any OCBC Bank or Standard Chartered Bank branch for your child who is eligible for CDA. You can save in the CDA any time until 31 December in the year your child turns 6 years of age. The savings will be matched up to the cap of $6,000 each for the 1st and 2nd child, $12,000 each for the 3rd and 4th child and $18,000 each for the fifth and subsequent child. The Government will match your savings in the following month.

This means that the those eligible will not only get the cash bonus, but also moneys from the government in the CDA account, subject to a cap, depending on the birth order of the child.

Recently, Singapore’s National Population Secretariat statistics revealed there were only 32,423 citizens born last year, just 129 more than in 2003, the year before the government extended the Baby Bonus Scheme to include the first and fourth child.

According to Mother of Six, a blogger in Singapore who writes on motherhood and social issues, the perception of having a larger family in Singapore is not favourable. She says:

Often, when I tell people I have six children, they react in disbelief. Many must think we are crazy, as the norm in Singapore is to have just one or two. Now with the baby bonus, three or four children may become a standard in future. But six?

The typical objections to having so many children in Singapore are mainly economical. Rising costs is one. If you factor in tuition, enrichment, supplementary class, school buses, childcare, day care and maid, then there will be disincentives to have more than two children.

On the other hand, single unwed mothers in Singapore do not enjoy the baby bonus benefits. According to the Association of Single Mothers Singapore blog:

By providing single mothers a chance to move out and start a family on their own, they learn to be independent and self-help themselves.

By providing single mothers with the same privileges like the ability to purchase HDB flats (government housing) and receive the Baby Bonus, they can stop worrying about facing pressures when at home and focus better at work and improving themselves. By having a clearer mind and more refreshed and energized self, they can better plan their future.

The Baby Bonus allows single mothers to pay for their child’s basic needs like milk and diapers. Single mothers can also use that money to enrol their child into public nurseries so that they have more time on their hands to take on a more permanent and stable job. With bonuses, single mothers can ease their minds

Molly’s blog, To Fix A Mocking Peasant, a personal blog, has an interesting analysis into the situation of the stance of the Singapore government and single unwed mothers:

As usual, our darling CNA (Channel News Asia) is able to sum up the hopelessly impressively circular (il)logic of the government's representatives in one succinct sentence (perhaps without seeing the irony?):

“The baby bonus will not be extended to single unwed mothers as the Marriage and Parenthood Package is an incentive for married couples.”

In other words, we won't extend the baby bonus to single unwed mothers because we won't. The Baby Bonus will remain something for married couples because we won't extend it.

Molly writes further:

Other wonderful reasons Mrs. Yu-Foo (Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports) came up with for not extending the Baby Bonus to single unwed mothers include the fact that they are eligible for other sorts of benefits that married mothers are eligible…

Single unwed mothers are not entitled to the Baby Bonus because they are entitled to everything else. Yes, that's to sum it up in one line.

But you have yet to see the best of Mrs Yu-Foo:

“The Marriage and Parenthood Package is not a financial assistance scheme for children. The government

cannot and should not be the surrogate father.”

So, the Baby Bonus is supposed to lighten the financial costs of having children, but it's not a financial assistance scheme! The government can give the Baby Bonus to poor married couples without becoming the surrogate father, but if it extends the Bonus to single unwed mothers, it will become a surrogate father!

She ends her commentary by saying:

Single unwed mothers, often more so than married mothers, make a conscious decision to keep their babies instead of aborting them due to the social stigmas associated with being, well, single unwed mothers…

Sons of single parents serve NS (Singapore’s compulsory National Service) too.

Pretty Princess Maggie, “a mum who is committed to her family and her handsome baby boy”, has interesting perspective of motherhood and Singapore’s baby bonus on her blog:

The Singapore government had recently revised its baby bonus package. However, as a mother of one, I do not see myself in sacrificing my career and time to stop everything and have another baby again. I want to provide the best for him and I do not want him to share his parents’ love with anymore siblings as I do not experienced a very happy childhood. I want to look after him properly and nurture him and give him the best. It is better to have a good kid, than to have 8 lousy ones.

Seriously speaking, having more maternity leave… would only add burden to the employers and hinder our career advancement. I do not see that it will help woman have more babies. It would only add stress to them if they were new to the company and was planning to have a few kids. However, I would definitely consider having another child only if I am paid a salary for looking after my baby. And if my baby gets free education or heavily subsidised education… Comparing a few thousand dollars baby bonus to offset the hospitalisation for childbirth, to the money ($950X15=$14,250) to be spent on babycare till 18 months at daycare, and the care and attention that a baby needs, it can nowhere be compared. The baby bonus is just to entice those who do not understand the hardship and commitment and huge financial commitment to raising a baby. In short, only those who had not done their sums would think that it is a big bonus where in fact it is a huge investment with not necessary any returns at all.

The background of Singapore’s current predicament of an aging population is interestingly explored on Singapore Sojourn blog. It states:

…If one reads the history of social engineering from the 1960's onwards it becomes apparent the reluctance to breed was first triggered by a deliberate campaign to reduce population.

In those times parents who had more than two children were penalised and the incidence of abortion was high. Having a third child carried a stigma and financial cost.

Mui Teng Yap wrote an interesting paper on this subject entitled Fertility and Population Policy: the Singapore Experience in which he wrote “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.

There was also great concerned that ‘educated’ Singaporeans were not breeding and the under classes were.

This changed in 1987 when the rule became “have three if you can afford them” but I suspect by then that the damage was done in that the cultural perceptions of what constituted a family had changed.

A few reasons why Singapore’s baby bonus has not produced its desired results are laid out in (13) Expositions. Among the reasons listed, are the society’s mindset and the difficulty in maintaining a good work-life balance:

Firstly, there is a higher need in the change of the society’s mindset. As Singapore modernizes, its citizens become more educated and women are able to become more independent. They develop a deep passion for their career and a sense of satisfaction when they succeed. In fact, Singapore has witnessed a sharp increase in the percentage of working mothers from 45.6% in 1986 to 54.3% in 2006…

Secondly, the difficulties in maintaining a balance between work and family cause couples to be hesitant to have babies. Working women are especially reluctant to have babies, fearing the insurmountable task of having to juggle between the demands from work to their family-building duties, which require large amounts of commitment…

In conclusion, other prominent factors have been shown to affect the decision to have children. Thus, the Baby Bonus Scheme is limited in its impact and presents a too simplistic solution to resolve such a personal and complicated dilemma.

The Temasek Review also adds that the high cost of living, especially housing, is a prime reason for the ineffectiveness of the baby bonus.

According to a news report, Sociologist Paulin Straughan has suggested that a cash incentive is not enough to encourage women to take on the role of motherhood. She was reported to have said that what mothers and parents really need is more “flexibility and latitude” at the workplace. She was quoted as saying, “We need more enlightened employers who know that granting parents time off for pressing childcare needs may actually produce happier, more productive and loyal workers.”

Mother of Six concludes:

What lessons can be drawn from my experience? Firstly, making a decision to have a child is a personal one between a husband and his wife. We have children because we like children, even if we do not get to enjoy a baby bonus. It would be sad if a couple had a child solely for the monetary rewards, as a child needs more than money to grow into adulthood.

Secondly, women need to rediscover who they are. Only we can bring life into the world, and since the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, I feel we have actively suppressed this important role of procreation. Of course, in this era of equality, we can argue that the husband must also contribute to bringing up a child — but if a woman does not even allow herself to bear a child, how can the man get the chance?

Often, women in Singapore prefer a briefcase to a bottle, a notebook to a nappy. In this drive to actualise ourselves as career women and useful citizens, have we forgotten that we have the power and ability to bring life into the world?

Ian Tan, a blogger in Singapore, offers a few interesting solutions to the Singapore's baby drought on his blog.


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