“Have three, or more if you can afford it” is the slogan for the government’s new pro-natalist population policy aimed at encouraging parents to have more children. Announced by then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on 1 March 1987, the slogan marked the end of the anti-natalist two-child population policy, which had been in place since 1972. The new policy came at a time when the country’s total fertility rate (TFR) – the average number of children a female would have during her reproductive years – had fallen below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. The decline began in 1977 when the TFR dropped to 1.82 after registering 2.11 in 1976. Thereafter, the figure continued slipping and reached 1.74 in 1980; by 1986, the TFR was 1.42, which was the lowest in the decade of the1980s. The fall in fertility rate was attributed to various factors, including the two-child population policy and the lopsided procreation pattern in which better-educated married couples were delaying parenthood. To arrest the falling birth rates, the government set up a high-level inter-ministerial population committee in 1986 to review and recommend changes to the population policy. These changes formed the basis of the country’s pro-natalist population policy.
To persuade couples to have more children, previous anti-natalist measures, such as disincentives against the third child in school registration, were removed. These were replaced by new incentives designed to ease the burden of having a third child, such as tax rebates, childcare subsidies and the ability to use Medisave to cover the delivery costs of the first three children. Furthermore, parents who had given birth to a third child were given allocation priority if they wanted to upgrade to larger Housing and Development Board flats. To encourage employers to be more pro-family, the public service took the lead by offering part-time employment and extending no-pay childcare leave to mothers as well as unrecorded paid leave for them to look after their sick children below six years of age. In addition to these pro-natalist measures, compulsory counselling was imposed on women who were either planning for abortion or sterilisation.
Over the years, the government regularly strengthened these pro-natalist incentives marked by the increase in tax rebates and childcare subsidies to encourage parents to have more children. It also introduced new incentives, most notably the Baby Bonus Scheme in April 2001. Under this two-tier payment scheme, the government gives a cash gift to new parents, and makes a dollar-for-dollar matching contribution to the amount of savings made by new parents in a special account called the Child Development Account. Other pro-natalist incentives and measures introduced include childcare leave for working parents, a lower maid levy and implementation of a five-day work week to create a pro-family environment. Despite these measures, Singapore’s TFR continued to stay well below the replacement level of 2.1 children, averaging 1.9 from 1990 to 1999, 1.4 from 2000 to 2009 period, and 1.2 from 2010 to 2013.
1. Saw, S.-H. (2012). The population of Singapore (p. 215). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Call no.: SING 304.6095957 SAW.
2. John, A. (1987, March 2). Have 3, or more if you can afford it. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Saw, S.-H. (2005). Population policies and programmes in Singapore (pp. 159–162). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Call no.: SING 363.96095957 SAW; Department of Statistics, Ministry of Trade and Industry. (2014, September). Population trends 2014 (p. 26). Retrieved December 30, 2014, from Department of Statistics Singapore website: http://www.singstat.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/publications/publications_and_papers/population_and_population_structure/population2014.pdf
4. Saw, 2012, pp. 156–157.
5. Saw, 2005, pp. 145–146.
6. Saw, 2012, p. 176; Population panel set up to monitor trends. (1986, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Saw, 2005, pp. 161–162.
8. Strategy for more babies. (1987, March 2). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. The Straits Times, 2 Mar 1987, p. 1; Dr Hu’s third child carrot. (1987, March 5). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. The Straits Times, 2 Mar 1987, p. 1.
11. Help for civil service mothers. (1987, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 1; Foo, C. P. (1987, March 7). Civil service makes it easier for working mothers. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. The Straits Times, 2 Mar 1987, p. 1.
13. Saw, 2005, pp. 181–193.
14. Ministry of Social and Family Development. (2014, March). Child Development Co-Savings (Baby Bonus) Scheme. Retrieved December 30, 2014, from Ministry of Social and Family Development Baby Bonus website: http://www.babybonus.gov.sg/bbss/html/index.html; Long, S. (2000, August 21). More babies wanted: Bonus for second and third. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Saw, 2005, pp. 195–205.
16. Saw, 2012, p. 177; Singapore Department of Statistics, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Sep 2014, Population trends 2014, p. vi.
The information in this article is valid as at 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.