Last year, we welcomed 33,793 Singaporean babies, the highest in 13 years.1 That was something to cheer about, but the statistics were still not favourable for Singapore. In 2015, Singapore's total fertility rate (the average number of children born to a woman during her child-bearing years) was 1.24,2 still way below the replacement rate of 2.1.
Of late, our sunny, cosmopolitan island has been seeing many young Singaporeans whose definition of success does not include ‘having children by the age of 30 years old’… even though they do eventually want to start a family.3 This paradigm shift away from parenthood is vastly different from our parents’ generation and has sparked some concern in our society.
In fact, the results of I Love Children’s (ILC) fifth Parenthood Survey conducted in February 2015 echoed this very sentiment. Two thirds of the 607 respondents surveyed intended to have children at their ‘ideal’ age of 29.7 years. This ‘ideal’ age had increased by 0.4 years since 2010.
What’s more, while 96% of these respondents were aware that there were higher risks associated with late pregnancies, only 69% acknowledged that it would affect their decision on when to have children. This was a significant drop from 2013, when a healthy 82% of respondents said that the knowledge of the higher risks associated with late pregnancies had an impact on their decision on when to have children.
When asked why did they “wait to have children despite knowing the high risks”, respondents consistently cited three reasons:
Among the three reasons that young Singaporeans cited for the delay in starting families, this would be the most worrying one.
One couple who wished they could turn back time and plan earlier for a family was Noel Tan and Brenda See. Today, in their mid-40s, they are happy parents of three young children, but many did not know this blissful state belies an eventful parenthood journey. They married in their 20s and were confident that time was on their side. They only tried to conceive later when they were in their thirties. Little did they expect infertility to be an issue. Brenda said that while they had planned for their careers and finances, they did not do so when it came to having children. Her advice to young couples is to ‘Plan early!’
Brenda See and Noel Tan with their three kids, Ezra, Edna and Ethan. (Source)
Contrary to popular belief, the fact is that conception becomes more challenging with age for both men and women. While the chances of natural conception are up to 25% for women who are between 20 to 24 years of age, it decreases startlingly as a woman ages. Fertility treatments, while being able to help some couples conceive, cannot reverse the effects that ageing has on our bodies.
Women who are 30 to 34 years have a mere 10% chance for successful natural conception per month and it drops drastically further to less than 5% for women older than 40 years old.
The chances of conception are affected by both male and female fertility. The quantity and quality of sperm decrease in men who are 35 years and older. This does not mean that men cannot be fathers in their later years, but this would mean a different lifestyle, having to work and provide for his family for a longer period of time.
Couples should also plan to have children earlier, instead of waiting for their careers to take off as they will only get busier with work as their careers progress. Furthermore, there are advantages to starting a family earlier as parents would have more energy to look after their children, and could eventually be younger and more active grandparents (or “glam-parents!) down the road.
So, plan for children early on in life, as the process of finding a right partner, getting married and finally trying to conceive baby takes time. Let us keep in mind that while careers can be built and money earned, starting a family cannot be ‘built’ or ‘earned’ past a certain age. Just like time and tide wait for no man, there is no turning back the time on our biological clocks.
Ultimately, the cost of raising our children is only as expensive as we want it to be. Our children do not care for fancy and expensive clothes and toys; they have an innate desire to be loved by their parents.
In reality, there are many grants, subsidies and reliefs that the Singapore government has introduced to help with the cost of having children and bringing them up.
To help couples with the cost of having baby, the Baby Bonus cash gift scheme was enhanced in the beginning of 2015 to include the fifth child onwards. Parents receive $8,000 of the cash gift for the first and second children and $10,000 from the third child onwards. The Medisave Grant for newborns was also enhanced. Every newborn of a Singaporean citizen born on or after 1 January 2015 has a CPF Medisave account opened for them and qualifies for a $4,000 Medisave grant to cover healthcare expenses such as vaccinations.
The fourth child of Nicholas and Noeline Wong, in their mid-30s, benefited from the enhanced schemes. It defrayed some initial costs for their baby born in July 2015.
However, there were couples who did not have such schemes available to them but they still managed their finances prudently. Celebrity chefs Sam and Forest Leong, featured in several ILC events, became parents to two boys with almost empty bank accounts more than 20 years ago. What kept their parenthood journey going strong was their mutual love respect, and support for each other and their children as well as their common passion for food.
ILC acknowledges that Singapore is a fast paced corporate jungle that favours people who are able to keep up. Thus, just as building a successful career requires priority, time and determination, so too does conception.
Young Singaporeans today are exceptionally fortunate to have an abundance of readily available resources at their fingertips to help them start families more comfortably.
If you want to start a family and are working long hours, have a conversation with your spouse about the choice you want to make. Tweak your career goals to fit with your plan for a family, keeping in mind that you can always continue to pursue your career after having children. Ultimately, a worthy boss and workplace culture will not liken your value to the number of hours you stay in the workplace but at your capability to strike a balance between family and work.
Jeremy Ratnam, a DJ at a prominent radio station, became a house-husband three years ago to spend time with his then three children. Today, with four in tow and still a DJ, he recalls how his decision in 2013 rattled a few friends. He never regretted his choice for the ‘loss’ of income or stardom. What he gained was a lifelong experience with his children he and his homemaker wife could never ever buy.
We are like-minded individuals from all walks of life, but share one thing in common – we are all in love with children! Supported by an amazing secretariat, our tools and programmes include the iconic ILC Parenthood Bus, fertility awareness campaigns, talk-cum-movie and Valentine’s Day events, a web portal, videos, dialogue sessions with young Singaporeans and a nationwide parenthood survey.
ILC takes heart that Singapore’s total fertility rate has stabilised in the past 10 years and our activities and work will continue to contribute to a Singapore that is more children-plenty and children-friendly. Together, let us keep Singapore young!
3 ILC’s February 2015 Parenthood Survey