MP Leon Perera

Mr Leon Perera asked the Prime Minister (a) whether the Government has conducted any research to understand the number of children that Singaporean women would like to have and the reasons why this may be different from the number they actually do have; and (b) if not, whether it will consider doing so and publishing the findings of the fertility gap and the reasons for it.

The Minister, Prime Minister’s Office (Ms Indranee Rajah) (for the Prime Minister): Mr Speaker, the Government regularly engages Singaporeans to better understand attitudes and perceptions towards marriage and parenthood.

According to the 2021 Marriage and Parenthood Survey of about 6,000 respondents, Singaporean women want to have at least two children on average. However, in practice, married female respondents had less than two children. Common reasons cited for not having more children include concerns over the financial cost and the stress of raising children, and difficulties in managing work and family demands.

These are issues that the Government is addressing, including through the latest enhancements to the marriage and parenthood measures in this year’s Budget. However, beyond Government-initiated measures, we need a whole-of-society approach that is supportive of families, values family well-being, and acts accordingly. We encourage everyone to work toward building a Singapore that is Made for Families.

Mr Speaker: Mr Perera.

Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied): I thank the Minister for replying. I have two supplementary questions.

The first is regarding the survey and the data that she referred to, is this data publicly available and can Singaporeans study the statistical fertility gap within that survey, the gap between the number of children women want to have and how many they actually have? And does that data provide reasons for that gap, including all possible reasons such as housing affordability, for one, which has been discussed before in this House, where there is evidence from another study by an NUS researcher that there is a correlation between high house prices and low total fertility rate (TFR)?

The second supplementary question is, does this study contain – and if not, could future studies address – differences between different segments in Singapore? Because that may be a source of policy ideas if we look at outliers where there are certain segments be it by income or by other characteristics —

Mr Speaker: Mr Perera, can you keep it concise, please.

Mr Leon Perera: Yes. Where the TFR is higher or the TFR is lower. In America, for example, some research shows higher-income, better educated women have more children. So, can that information also be made available so that we can have a whole-of-society approach to address what is really an existential issue?

Ms Indranee Rajah: Mr Speaker, I thank the Member for his clarifications. The survey results are, in fact, publicly available. Mr Perera may have missed them, but they are available. They were published by the Prime Minister’s Office, so the survey is available online. I would encourage him to have a look at it. 

You will see when you look the survey that it actually contains quite a lot of information. The survey was conducted from February to June 2021, with respondents comprising 2,848 single – that means, never married – and 3,017 married Singapore residents, aged 21 to 45 years. In the annex to the survey, there are details of the profile of survey respondents.

The highlights of the survey do not indicate housing prices, as Mr Perera mentioned. What was key on their mind were other reasons and let me just highlight them. 

The first thing among the key findings was that marriage and parenthood aspirations remained strong. So, Singaporeans do want to get married and do want to have children. In terms of the factors that affected having children, the survey showed that in making parenthood decisions, key considerations included the ability to manage the costs of child-raising as well as to manage work and family commitments. Another key consideration was that fathers were equally important as caregivers and could play a greater role at home. And the third key finding was that many agreed that Flexible Work Arrangements make it easier for couples to start a family and have more children.

So, we do understand that for young couples starting family, having a home is important and you would have seen that in the Budget, the measures to prioritise first-timer families, young families and married couples, are aimed at ensuring that they have a home. And we have had a whole debate on affordability and accessibility. Singaporeans can rest assured that that is very much on our minds and we are making sure that housing is available for those who wish to start families and have children.

But the other findings, which were the key findings from this, you can see that this year’s Budget, in particular, the Marriage and Parenthood measures are targeted squarely at that. The measures are directed towards financial support for parents. So, the increase in the Baby Bonus cash gift, the CDA top-up, the in the enhancement of the CDA co-matching. That addresses the financial concern. We have doubled the Government-Paid Paternity Leave, which addresses this finding that they wish to see more involvement of the fathers. And the other, which was said in the Budget, and actually, we have said many times but has not yet received as much attention is the Flexible Work Arrangements. 

Flexible Work Arrangements are sometimes confused with work from home. But it is not equal to work from home. Work from home is a subset of Flexible Work Arrangements, which is a much broader thing. This I think is what would help parents the most – that sense that they would be able to take time off or to be able to arrange their work in such a way that allows them to care for young children. Also bearing in mind that many parents also have to look after their own parents, the grandparents.

So, Flexible Work Arrangements will be key and hence, that is why in my earlier answer, I indicated that we need a whole-of-society approach, where everyone is supportive or families and family well-being.

Prime Minister’s Office
3 March 2023

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