S’pore companies have to do their part to encourage higher birth rate, expert suggests universal care leave

Singapore companies will also have to find solutions to help falling birth rate

Singapore’s birth rate has fallen to a record low, with the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) falling to a historic 0.97 in 2023. This is the first time the country’s TFR has sunk below 1, after dropping to 1.04 in 2022.

Singapore joins a list of countries with dismal birth rates, including South Korea and Italy.

Just recently, there were reports that said a South Korean company was giving 100 million won (S$101,000) to employees who have kids to raise the falling birth rate in the country. The country’s TFR is 0.72.

Korean Company Offers S$101K To Employees For Each Child Born After 2021 To Boost Birth Rate


With Singapore’s TFR well below its replacement rate of 2.1, this poses serious implications for the country.

Although the Government has stated that it is taking the matter seriously and has implemented a range of measures, researchers and experts have said that these won’t so easily increase the TFR.

For one, it’ll be hard to move against shifts in societal norms and individual priorities. There are also other factors such as financial concerns and difficulties juggling roles in work and family.

If the Government can only do so much, can Singapore companies then do their part?

MS News spoke to experts and a couple about companies’ roles and issues with implementing pro-natal policies.

Financial, personal, and work barriers exist for adults

Answers.sg polled 915 people and found that just 23% of respondents wish to have a baby in 2024.

Source: Answers.sg

Several barriers exist when it comes to the falling birth rate in Singapore, according to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Indranee Rajah as quoted in Channel NewsAsia:

  • Gender roles relating to work and taking care of domestic matters
  • Financial and economic struggles
  • Personal reasons, such as pressures to be an excellent parent

Singapore provides parental leave including a shared amount, and financial incentives such as the Baby Bonus.

But even as the government strives to maintain the fertility rate, businesses may also need to do their part.

While most employers do some offer benefits to encourage childbirth, more drastic measures may be needed to really move the needle.

Several companies in Singapore do offer parental benefits

For example, according to a Linkedin ad, Shopee offers various flexible work options such as remote work, flexible hours, and compressed workweeks for parents.

Meanwhile, DBS Bank offers maternity, paternity and family leave.

But are such measures enough for mentalities to shift?

More financial incentives may give parents the confidence to start a family, according to one couple who spoke to MS News.

“Having S$100,000 will lighten the financial burden, giving couples the confidence to start a family,” Ms Aliah Rahman told MS News.

“It will be a bonus for everyone if companies show their fullest support towards their employees,” added the 28-year-old, who works as a document controller.

However, she feels that getting benefits from companies nowadays isn’t easy due to tough competition and strict policies.

Ms Aliah’s husband, Mr Arif Jamak, is a blending operator.

They got married in 2023 but are currently “neutral” about starting a family due to rising costs and inflation.

Companies offer financial incentives due to dwindling birth rate, economic instability

Beyond Korean companies, at least one Chinese company has also turned to financial incentives for employees.

Trip.com Group announced in July 2023 that both male and female employees who’ve worked there for three years or more will be eligible to receive an annual cash bonus of 10,000 yuan (S$1,903) per year for each newborn until the child reaches the age of five.

China is also facing a decline in birth rate.

According to China Daily, China had 9.02 million babies born in 2023 – a drop from 9.56 million in 2022. The trend has only gone downwards since 2017.

The same report mentions the high cost of raising a child there. According to YuWa Population Research, a public welfare institution dedicated to population and related public policy research in China: “The average cost of raising a child to the age of 18 is 485,000 yuan (S$92,206), equivalent to 6.9 times the annual per capita GDP.”

According to Dollars & Sense, it can cost more than twice as much to raise a child to the same age in Singapore, at S$191,760 — a sum that even most middle-class families will struggle with.

One-off payments of S$1,000 only help to subsidise economical impact, not offset it

But whether Singapore companies can step up with similarly large baby bonuses remains to be seen.

Three banks — DBS, OCBC, and UOB — have announced one-off bonuses of S$1,000 for junior staff in 2024.

Source: Google Maps

This measure is in line with National Wages Council recommendations to help employees.

Economically speaking, these support measures are a way to cope with rising costs and inflation. But it might underline the dire economic state in 2024 – a huge barrier to starting a family for many Singaporeans.

Ms Aliah rated the economic factor as significant, saying: “We as a couple are struggling to make our ends meet, such as groceries, bills, housing and also savings. We do not want to be inconsiderate parents and allow our children to suffer.”

Everyone would want to retire early but as of now that definitely seems far-fetched. We foresee that we will have to work till the end.

Other issues at hand

Besides the financial burden – which a large baby bonus would significantly alleviate – there are other factors in play when it comes to the fall in birth rates.

According to Tan Ern Ser, an Associate Professor of the Department of Sociology at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, late marriages as well as the long-term commitment of raising a child — which he pegged to about 25 years — also contribute.

A more existential factor is what he called “the importance assigned to ensuring that the child they brought into this planet is given the necessary attention, resources, and opportunities to do well in life; hence, the need to invest in their children”.

All these do not help the TFR.

“However, for those couples who desire to have a child both to shower their love on and to receive his/her love, pro-fertility measures could provide a push,” Assoc Prof Tan added.

Universal parental leave may work for sandwich generation, says expert

At present, shared parental leave exists for both parents. Parents of children born on or after 1 July 2017 can receive four weeks of shared parental leave, capped at S$2,500 per week, including CPF. According to the Ministry of Manpower, the shared parental leave is allocated in blocks of full weeks. For example, your wife can allocate one to four weeks of shared parental leave.

However, the Government-mandated parental leave is all that’s available to many employees. Mothers may face pressure to return to work after their maternal leave, while fathers do not receive anywhere near as much paternal leave.

With just two weeks paid by the Government as well as another two weeks’ entitlement subject to the employer’s agreement, unless one parent is earning enough for the whole household, both parents may have to work to survive as a family in today’s economic climate.

Adding to this is the sandwich generation phenomenon where an increasing number of people may also have to take care of elderly parents alongside raising children.

The financial burden of increasing medical costs as parents get older can lead some to not have children at all.

In light of this, an expert proposed implementing universal care leave over having more shared parenting leave.

Dr Tan Poh Lin, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said: “While leave sharing can be helpful, perhaps a better way can be reformulating some current entitlements to allow for universal care leave, that not just parents can access.”

“This can help to improve workplace acceptance of anyone with family obligations, as well as address the view that only unmarried or married women are the primary responsible parties for caring for dependents, including elderly parents,” she said.

Companies have to do their part to increase birth rate to avoid manpower shortage

While a large baby bonus from companies would be a great motivator for couples to have children, it may not be feasible to do this at most firms for financial reasons.

The question then is whether companies can help out in other ways. As suggested by Dr Tan, universal care leave can be helpful not just for expectant and new mothers, but can be used for taking care of elderly parents, too.

In a similar vein, if fathers are accorded an equal amount of childcare leave days, it would help to ease pressures on women, especially those in their 20s and 30s, to pick between career and family.

While Singapore businesses focus on productivity, it can and has led to tensions between raising children and moving forward with their careers.

But we will face deeper ramifications if we progress on this path. A lack of births will lead to even less manpower in the workforce, which will cause a shortage that can only be overcome by importing foreigners.

Thus, companies do have a part to play in encouraging births, too — lest they find themselves unable to fill roles in the next 10-20 years.

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