Singapore and South Korea Face Record-Low Fertility Rates Despite Government Efforts

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Singapore and South Korea Face Record-Low Fertility Rates Despite Government Efforts

Heavy government spending to encourage more births fails to reverse trend

Singapore and South Korea Face Record-Low Fertility Rates Despite Government Efforts


SINGAPORE/SEOUL — Fertility rates in Singapore and South Korea fell to record lows in 2023, as governments try but fail to encourage couples to have more children.

The average number of births per woman in Singapore during her reproductive years dropped below 1.0 for the first time to 0.97 in 2023, the government announced on Wednesday. That figure was 1.04 in 2022.

Earlier in the day, South Korea’s national statistics agency reported a fertility rate of 0.72 last year, down from 0.78 in 2022.

Both countries are facing a deepening demographic crisis. “It will be increasingly challenging to maintain our dynamism, attract global businesses and create opportunities for the next generation,” said Indranee Rajah, a minister in Singapore’s prime minister’s office, during a parliamentary session. She cited the pandemic as a possible disruption to family planning.

Countries need a fertility rate of 2.1 for their populations to remain stable. This raises the prospect of an economic crisis for South Korea, one of the world’s most rapidly aging societies, as fewer working people are left to support growing numbers of elderly.

Both countries are splurging to try to arrest the falls. South Korea has spent more than $210 billion over the last 15 years on policies to reverse the trend, but to little avail.

President Yoon Suk Yeol has pledged to overhaul the government’s approach to focus on making childcare and education more affordable while helping parents balance work and household commitments.

Singapore has been making similar moves. Last year, the government raised its so-called Baby Bonus Cash Gift by 3,000 Singaporean dollars ($2,200). That meant couples can claim cash of SG$11,000 for each of their first two children and SG$13,000 for each subsequent child.

This year, it also stepped up support for childcare by doubling paternity leave to four weeks with government funding. From 2025, fees for government-backed preschools will be lowered.

Singapore and South Korea’s birth-rate announcements come on the back of Japan’s on Tuesday, which reflected a similar trend. The Japanese government announced that the number of infants born in the country fell to a record low in 2023, according to preliminary data. Last year, births declined by 5.1% from the previous year for a total of 758,631.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi described the declining birth rate as “a critical situation,” and said the government will take “unprecedented steps” to address it. Hayashi said that the next six years are Japan’s “last chance” to stem population decline, and that the government will expand child care and try to increase wages for young workers.

In Taiwan, the fertility rate has been slipping for more than a decade and in 2022 was down to 0.87 births per woman. Taipei’s National Development Council pointed out trends of people marrying later, or not marrying at all, as factors in the decline, and pledged to make children’s education more affordable and employment more flexible to encourage births.

FAQs: Singapore and South Korea Face Record-Low Fertility Rates Despite Government Efforts

1. Why are Singapore and South Korea facing record-low fertility rates?

Both countries are experiencing declining fertility rates due to a variety of factors including high costs of living, changing societal norms, and challenges in balancing work and family life. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has likely exacerbated these issues.

2. What are the consequences of low fertility rates?

Low fertility rates can lead to population aging, which poses significant challenges for economies and societies. With fewer working-age people to support the elderly, there may be strains on healthcare systems, pension schemes, and overall economic productivity.

3. What measures have the governments taken to address the issue?

Both Singapore and South Korea have implemented policies aimed at encouraging couples to have more children. These include financial incentives such as cash gifts for newborns, as well as initiatives to make childcare and education more affordable and accessible.

4. Have these measures been effective?

Despite heavy government spending, the fertility rates in both countries continue to decline. While these policies may have had some impact, they have not been sufficient to reverse the overall trend of falling birth rates.

5. What are other countries doing to tackle declining fertility rates?

Countries like Japan and Taiwan are also facing similar challenges and have implemented various measures to address declining birth rates. These include expanding childcare services, increasing parental leave benefits, and promoting policies to support work-life balance.

Table: Fertility Rates in Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan

Country 2022 Fertility Rate 2023 Fertility Rate
Singapore 1.04 0.97
South Korea 0.78 0.72
Japan (Data pending)
Taiwan 0.87 (Data pending)

(Data sources: Respective national statistics agencies)

This table illustrates the declining fertility rates in Singapore and South Korea compared to previous years, as well as the ongoing trend in other countries in the region.

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