“Addressing such calls in a recent media interview, population czar Wong Kan Seng pointed to studies that show no conclusive link between improved fertility rates in a country and generous leave policies or state expenditure” (Our Way, Not The Nordic Way: DPM Wong, Miss Venessa Lee).
A Singapore solution for a global challenge: this is the proposition put forth by Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Wong Kan Seng, in the report “Our Way, Not The Nordic Way: DPM Wong” (February 26, 2011) by Miss Venessa Lee. Heading the National Population and Talent Department (NPTD) – quite straightforwardly – DPM Wong was making reference to an assortment of recommendations recently promoted by advocates and academics, who were calling for enhancements or additions to existing government measures to help raise the birth rate. Logically, Singaporeans have begun to look towards France and Sweden for inspiration; given that these European countries have managed to significantly reverse their declining fertility rates.
Basing his assertions upon statistical expenditure ratios and comparative total fertility ratios (TFR), DPM Wong is right to highlight that future approaches should be undertaken cautiously. Still, while an all-out deployment of strategies is not advisable, going to the other extreme of doing nothing would similarly yield no benefits. Maintenance of the status quo implies tremendous fear and uncertainty.
DPM Wong and his corresponding NPTD need to shed the comforts of conservatism, and not pedantically reject tabled proposals without giving them a shot. First, policy review and studies on population development and fertility plans should be conducted on a more regular basis; especially so given the rapid change of circumstances and varying social trends. It is puzzling for current reviews to be administered only every four years. Balancing the need for speed and the necessity of allowing some time to track the effectiveness of particular policy changes, the existing cycle should be reduced. Additional manpower and resources can be dedicated to the NPTD at the same time; with staff also dedicated to on-the-ground engagement to seek out comments and opinions.
Second, the feedback for more parental leave for fathers should not be casually dismissed. Beyond the contention of gender equality, additional leave would definitely allow fathers to spend more quality time with their children, and spread out the demands of parenthood between both parents. The increased, perceived ability to manage has the potential to convince more young couples to start a family. Finally, while more spending on family does not guarantee a higher TFR, the administration is expending relatively less on family – in gross domestic product (GDP) percentages – as compared to other countries. Dishing out cash hand-outs might not be a silver bullet; however, putting into perspective the considerable rate of inflation and the increasingly high costs of childcare and education, money will continue to be a huge concern for young Singaporeans.
Rhetoric counts for little if we rest on our laurels: things have to move speedily and effectually before there is nothing left to salvage from this worrying slide.