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29th February 2024 (9 Topics)

Singapore’s Shrinking Population


Singapore, facing a dwindling population and a manpower shortage, has seen its resident total fertility rate (TFR) drop to an estimated 0.97 per cent in 2023, the first time it has dropped below one per cent in the country’s history.

The Number Game

  • Total fertility rate (TFR) fell from 1.04 in 2022 and 1.12 in 2021.
  • Birth rate remains below the replacement rate of 2.1 – the level at which a population replaces itself.
  • There were 26,500 resident marriages and 30,500 resident births in 2023.
  • Situation in other countries-
    • European countries like Italy and Spain continue to see a record-low number of births year-on-year
    • Neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand also saw their fertility rates fall in 2022.

The latest figure places Singapore among countries with the lowest birth rates globally, with South Korea topping the list at 0.72 in 2023.

Total fertility rate (TFR)

  • TFR refers to the average number of babies each woman would have during her reproductive years.
  • Fertility rate in India: Today, the average Indian woman is expected to have 2.0 children in her lifetime, a fertility rate that is higher than China’s (1.2) or the United States’ (1.6), but much lower than India’s in 1992 (3.4) or 1950 (5.9).

Twin demographic challenges

  • Singapore is confronted with the twin demographic challenges of
    • a persistently low fertility rate
    • an ageing population

What are the reasons for Singapore’s low fertility rate?

  • The Covid-19 pandemic disrupting some couples’ marriage and parenthood plans.
  • Other reasons include:
    • financial costs of child-raising
    • pressures to be an excellent parent
    • difficulties managing work and family commitments

What does this trend in society reflect?

  • City effect: Dual-income families are the norm in the pricey city-state and the lack of time for family is frequently cited as a significant factor influencing couples’ decisions on how many children to have, if they have any at all.
  • Change in priorities: The falling numbers reflect a generational change in priorities, and young people may not even see marriage or parenthood as important life goals.
  • Low fertility and higher education: Ageing reflects a transition from high fertility and low education to low fertility and higher education in most societies. This shift results in a reduced workforce, potentially slowing economic growth.

What are the implications?

  • More elderly population: Families are getting smaller than before, and more couples have to care for both their children and their elderly parents. It increases the burden of health care and pension provision by the working-age population.
  • Repercussion on labour force: With fewer births, Singapore will face a shrinking workforce.
  • Burden for government: A shrinking workforce could hurt the government’s tax revenues and exacerbate the problem, especially when coupled with the challenges of an aging population.
  • Threat to Economy: It will be increasingly challenging to maintain dynamism, attract global businesses and create opportunities for the next generation.

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