Immigration, Population, and Foreign Workforce in Singapore: An Overview of Trends, Policies, and Issues, pp. 6 of 13

As a tiny city-state, arguably Singapore’s only resource is its population. Yet, since the 1980s, various demographic challenges have emerged, particularly in terms of low fertility rates, population aging, and unbalanced growths of different ethnic (or “racial” in official parlance) groups.

The total fertility rate (TFR) of Singapore’s population fell below the replacement level 2.1 in the late 1970s (Figure 4). In the previous decades, however, it was the concern with possible overpopulation that underpinned the state policies in this regard. In fact, the Singapore government implemented an anti-natalist policy, calling its citizens to “Stop at Two,” with an eponymous campaign launched in 1972 (Yap, 2003). Viewed from the results, the government’s policy had been successful: the following decade (1972-1982) saw a sharp decrease in the TFR from 3.04 to 1.74 (Statistics Singapore, 2016a), although it is debatable whether the decline could be solely attributed to the official campaign. The 1980 census showed a low TFR, especially among the educated females, which provoked the government to re-examine its population policy. In his National Rally Speech in 1983, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew remarked: “we must amend our policies, and try to reshape our demographic configuration so that our better-educated women will have more children to be adequately represented in the next generation” (Cited in Yap, 2003, p. 652). Following this, policies took a pro-natalist turn, first targeting educated women, such as through the “Graduate Mothers Scheme” (Lyons-Lee, 1998). In the late 1980s, pro-natalism rolled out to the whole population. In 1987, the “Stop at Two” campaign was officially replaced by the slogan “Have three, or more if you can afford it.” Since then, the government has further introduced a string of policy measures to encourage marriage and childbirth. These included prioritizing couples over singles and divorcees in public housing allocation, sponsoring matchmaking services, issuing child-rearing allowances (i.e. the “baby bonus”), providing tax rebates, subsidizing childcare, lengthening maternity and paternity leaves and promoting work-life balance (see Jones, 2012; Sun, 2012; Wong & Yeoh, 2003;Yap, 2003 ). While the moderate spike in TFR in the late 1980s may have been due to these policies, the overall trend of TFR was unambiguously downward between 1990 and 2015 (See Figure 4).

Population aging is another serious demographic challenge faced by Singapore. The citizen old-age support ratio decreased from 13.5 in 1970 to 4.7 in 2016. According to the government’s forecast, by 2030, the number of working-age citizens (20-64 years old) would decline and the number of elderly citizens (above 65 years old) would nearly double the level of 2016. In this scenario, the citizen old-age support ratio would further drop to 2.3 in 2030 (See Figure 5).

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~ John Dewey, How We Think

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