After 18 years and eight sets of enhancements to the Marriage and Parenthood Package since it was first rolled out in 2001, the overall fertility rate in Singapore remains far below replacement levels.
Last Wednesday (Aug 28), the Government announced the latest slew of changes to encourage more couples to marry and have children, including more affordable and accessible childcare.
While chatting among ourselves, a colleague asked if the changes would encourage me to have children. To be honest, they do not.
I admit that at 25, I have recently found myself oddly moved by babies. I even told a friend that I fear the dreaded “maternal instinct” was finally getting to me.
But while I respect women who choose to start a family while balancing a career, the idea of having children, especially in hyper-competitive and uber-expensive Singapore, is too daunting to even consider, this early in my life and career.
Many recent articles, including one published in The Guardian in May, have concluded that traditional markers of success, such as child rearing, no longer apply.
The article cited author Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics, going so far as to say that unmarried and childless women are the happiest subgroup in the population. I can see why.
To begin with, we live in an era where finding and keeping a fulfilling job is increasingly difficult, with so many accomplished young people vying for a small pool of coveted jobs.
If I had to juggle work and child-raising, why should a company pick me over someone else who can give 100 per cent?
Raising a child is so expensive now too, it is no longer about just providing for necessities. Will I be able to afford to give my child what I deem to be the best?
(Also read: Can you afford to have another child?)
Give up my lifestyle for kids? Probably not
Shifting priorities also means that now there are more things to give up should I choose to have a child – a career, financial freedom, time to spend with friends and family.
Our generation is so lucky, our forefathers have paved the way for so many opportunities for us.
Whether it is the world becoming so much more accessible, or social norms shifting to allow women to thrive in any career, I am in a place in life where I have the opportunity to contribute to the world through work I do.
And while many people say that you can do all that and still raise a family, child-raising seems fundamentally incompatible with the type of life I really want – to be able to chase opportunities, wherever in the world they may be, and work 15-hour days without fretting over a young life I am responsible for.
Perhaps in a few years I might change my mind as my priorities shift, but even then, these factors are likely to persist.
When asked why Singaporeans should think that this set of changes will be any more effective at encouraging an improved fertility rate, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo admitted that the policies and governmental support can do only so much.
She said: “These policies are intended to lighten the burden… but social norms can work against (the families).”
And she is right, society and work now give us so many reasons to say no, it is becoming harder to see why it should be otherwise.
A version of this article first appeared in The New Paper.
(Photo: The New Paper)
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