Lost in Translation: Economic Development and Lowest Low Fertility in Singapore

Similar to post-industrial countries in Europe, newly industrialized countries in Asia have entered an era of below-replacement fertility.  Indeed, the total fertility rates for Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan in 2009 were 1.4, 1.2, 1.1, and 1.0, respectively.  Governments are trying to raise fertility to prevent population decline and to preclude drastic population aging.  This paper analyzes qualitative data collected in Singapore in 2007 and 2008 through semi-structured personal interviews with 165 women of childbearing age and 39 focus group discussions regarding their views and lived experiences of recent state policies aimed at encouraging citizens to give births.  My analysis suggests that the interviewees consider childbearing as a long-term commitment and want more direct and universal state subsidies (especially for education and healthcare) amid inflation and job insecurity.  The current incentives are perceived only as short-term benefits and thus have limited effectiveness.  At the same time, respondents remain convinced that their own family members would be the best/ideal caregivers for young children, and the unavailability of such informal support hinders positive childbearing decision-making.  This paper suggests that, while the second demographic transition in Europe has been theorized as a function of individualization, life-style choice, and transformation of intimacy (van de Kaa 1987, Lesthaeghe 1991, Giddens 1995), the persistent low fertility in Singapore is remarkably a function of the liberal familialist welfare regime (Ochiai, 2010) and the attendant relatively under-developed state provisions of welfare and social protection.  It thus complements the rich literature of social policy in East and Southeast Asia (Haggard 1990; Mok, 2009; Peng 2002, 2004; Ramesh, 2004) and existing studies of low fertility based on decontextulized large scale probability sampling surveys.

Full paper download: 1.1.4 Shirley Hsiao-Li Sun.pdf