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"If a fish and lion can spawn an infant, let's not do different"
August 3, 2012 4:30 AM   Subscribe

National Night: Days of post-war baby boom long gone, Singapore's fertility rate has been plummeting for years now. The government's efforts at matchmaking through the SDU have been disappointing; baby-bonuses haven't been helping. So this National Day, if the official songs aren't doing it for you, if you're further than a heartbeat to love at first sight, Mentos encourages you to kick-back and do your patriotic duty.
posted by the cydonian (32 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Perhaps the limp fertility rate is because the Tenga Egg has been available in Singapore for the past three years.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 4:49 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


So they're handing out money to people as an incentive to have a kid? Most places the problem is that there are too many people. If people don't want to have kids, let them not have kids. What's the problem with that?
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:50 AM on August 3, 2012


what is this i don't...this can't really be a Mentos ad, can it? Because if it's a Mentos ad, it's self-aware and funny and self-mocking and smutty and in English? But if it's not a Mentos ad, and it's just a joke, why is the Mentos ad thing part of the framing, since it would be even funnier if it was claiming to be official?

But actually, I totally dig the idea of a holiday that's about getting it on as a patriotic duty. I've always liked that it's considered a mitzvah for married couples to do it on the sabbath, too.
posted by longtime_lurker at 4:55 AM on August 3, 2012


One of Singapore's official languages is English, so that part at least makes sense.
posted by chrominance at 5:01 AM on August 3, 2012


So they're handing out money to people as an incentive to have a kid? Most places the problem is that there are too many people. If people don't want to have kids, let them not have kids. What's the problem with that?

The issue for more developed economies like Singapore, but also many European countries is that there are not enough children being born to support an aging population. In fact, it's going to be a huge problem in China.

Virtually every country that tries and succeeds in limiting population growth will face this problem - and it's a big one - in the future.

It seems like immigration might be the answer in Singapore, but, then again, from what I understand (a client runs a software business there), wages are low, taxes are high, and, in order to live there, it's really important to depend on family networks.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:13 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


@allkindsoftime: plunging birth rates are an enormous problem in many developed countries, in particular the Mediterranean countries of Europe: Italy, Greece, Spain etc. In parts of Italy, for example, the average woman has less than one child in her lifetime. If you think about that, it means that for every two people who get old and retire, (two potential parents), there is less than one young person working to support them. What this means for Italy is that within a generation or two, more than half of the entire Italian population is going to have to be replaced by immigrants. That, of course is an absolutely unheard of and probably never attained anywhere in human history level of immigration, and it will/would mean the disappearance of 'Italy' in some ways. Singapore is facing a similarly dire situation.

To which we can say, whatever, I guess. If young Italians are too self-centered to reproduce, then their society is broken and needs new blood.

The US is a bit of an outlier in this situation, in that American women still tend to have about 2.0-2.1 children each, which is enough to keep the population flat; add some new immigrants and we tend to grow here at a relatively economically healthy rate.

A lot of people now think that China has really screwed up over the last generation or so by keeping their one-child-per-family policy around, even as birth rates plummeted naturally. They are most likely heading for a demographic-economic reckoning, having now passed their Lewis Point, meaning the supply of free rural labor for urban manufacturing has effectively dried up.

What is interesting to me about this FPP is that no state seems to have ever figured out a solution to problems posed by the "demographic transition", other than massive immigration.
posted by jackbrown at 5:20 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good that somewhere is reducing its numbers. The "ageing population" excuse is no excuse at all. Do what governments have to do with any other problem: pay for it. As much as it takes. Increase taxes. Cut other budgets. Whatever it takes. Spend the necessary money. We have to bring our absurdly hyperbolic growth rate down, and reward anyone and anywhere that is managing to do so.
posted by Decani at 5:21 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


If we ever want to achieve a zero population growth, let alone the eventual (perhaps very soon eventual) population reduction without famine/war/some bright spark trying to eliminate a great number of people using nukes/disease, we will run into a time when there are more old people than young people.

My hope is that strategies for figuring this out are developed that extend to "Young people! Get fucking!"

My fear and prediction is famine and war, with a side order of antibiotic resistant disease.

We need the entire planet to stop having kids above the replacement level. If it happens in the more developed countries first and they start to drain off extra population from densely populated countries, I have trouble seeing this as anything but good.

On preview, what Decani and jackbrown said.
posted by Hactar at 5:23 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lie back and think of Singapore.
posted by maryr at 5:24 AM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


You will get a cash gift of up to $4,000 each for your 1st and 2nd child and $6,000 each for your 3rd and 4th child. All your children born on or after 17 August 2008 will also enjoy Government contributions in the form of a dollar-for-dollar matching for the amount of savings you contribute to your child’s Child Development Account (CDA). If your child is born before 17 August 2008, he or she will enjoy the Government matching contributions in the CDA if he or she is your second to fourth child.

OK. This is not very complicated. To achieve high birthrates you either have to have extreme poverty - probably not an option for Singapore - or do as Sweden has done (We Need More Babies) and make it possible for working women to have babies.

This includes: universal health care, 390 days of parental leave (at basically 100% of pay up to the national average salary of USD60k/year), child support payments, and a high quality, full-time day care system.

In addition, busses are free if you are pushing a pram, every bathroom has changing facilities, etc.

Sweden didn't do this to create more children. It was done to enable the 50% of the population that can get pregnant to fully participate in the workforce. If you want mothers and fathers to work you have to do something about the children and when you do that you find that you get more mothers and fathers.
posted by three blind mice at 5:24 AM on August 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


If it happens in the more developed countries first and they start to drain off extra population from densely populated countries, I have trouble seeing this as anything but good.

It depends on what you mean by "drain off extra population". A mass migration of people generally doesn't occur without trouble. I mean, at some point, 1.3 billion Chinese are going to gaze northwards at a depopulating Russia and begin asking themselves why so few people get to claim rights to so much land.
posted by three blind mice at 5:33 AM on August 3, 2012


Do what governments have to do with any other problem: pay for it. As much as it takes. Increase taxes. Cut other budgets. Whatever it takes. Spend the necessary money.

Of course, assuming that "cut other budgets" doesn't mean cutting anything that will impact quality of life of the older generation, these are all options that affect younger people the most, as they're the most viable tax base when the problems associated with a booming elderly population hit. It's basically asking your children to pay for both their future and yours at the same time, and it's already happening all over the world. It's why, for example, so many people my age basically assume that the government pension plan they pay into will be gone by the time they're ready to take advantage of it.
posted by chrominance at 5:38 AM on August 3, 2012


Interestingly, more a problem for Iran than Iraq
posted by BWA at 5:39 AM on August 3, 2012


I mean, at some point, 1.3 billion Chinese are going to gaze northwards at a depopulating Russia and begin asking themselves why so few people get to claim rights to so much land.

I've heard it asserted (with some credibility) that in a few decades' time, Russia will have to cede parts of the Far East/Siberia to China. Either by selling it à la Alaska and getting something for it or by being unable to defend it.
posted by acb at 5:41 AM on August 3, 2012


The Chinese population is both plateauing and becoming more productive at the same time. There is little reason to suspect they will try to take over the Russian Far East.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:51 AM on August 3, 2012


he US is a bit of an outlier in this situation, in that American women still tend to have about 2.0-2.1 children each,

The US has higher levels of fertility and population growth because of immigration of all things.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:51 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


@three blind mice: interesting read. I hadn't realized that any country had ever succeeded in pushing its birth rate back up with these policies. It figures that it would be Sweden, where people are actually willing to pay for state programs. How much you want to bet the Spaniards didn't keep going with Zapatero's attempt to copy the Swedes? (your article was from 2004).

There are basically two possible solutions to the problem of collapsing birth rates (which are going to happen everywhere, you MeFi Malthusians should know). The first is the Sweden/Singapore solution, promoting a return to childbearing by local women, by making it much easier for them to have both a career and a family. This has never really worked; even in the Swedish example noted by three blind mice, note that the Swedish birth rate remained below replacement level.

The second solution is what people in the field call "replacement migration"; meaning massive immigration to replace the aged and retiring local labor force and support them in their old age. For those who have access to Jstor, here's a useful article about the difficulties of replacement migration when the local birth rate gets to the Singapore/Italy level of disaster.

The two 'solutions' are not exclusive.

RE: the Russia/China question. China is basically finished growing. India's the new Malthusian threat! The Chinese should be watching their southern border more than the Russians. ;)
posted by jackbrown at 5:54 AM on August 3, 2012


@KokoRyu: you are right that the reason the US is growing is because immigrant women tend to have more kids than the native population. I believe the native population in the US tends to have kids at a below-replacement rate, while recent immigrants go a bit above.

I am not sure if I trust their numbers since they have a serious chip on their shoulder, but the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies claims that immigrants to the US actually tend to average significantly more children than their former compatriots in their home country as well.

I have no idea why that would be, but I seem to remember from my American History classes long ago that this was the case even in the 1600s, and explained why the US population grew so rapidly even back then; women from England and Germany who immigrated to the American colonies had almost twice as many kids, and more kids who survived to adulthood, as they would have back home.

Here's an article from the Atlantic on why all of this is a good thing for the US, vis a vis what's happening in Europe, Singapore and Japan.
posted by jackbrown at 6:25 AM on August 3, 2012


I am not sure if I trust their numbers since they have a serious chip on their shoulder, but the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies claims that immigrants to the US actually tend to average significantly more children than their former compatriots in their home country as well.

People in economically precarious situations instinctively tend towards a fast-breeding strategy, of having children younger and investing less per child, in the hope (for want of a better word; this isn't a conscious strategy but one in evolved instincts) that some will make it to survive, reproduce and pass the genes on. People in economically secure situations wait longer to have children and have fewer, investing more in each child; putting all your eggs into one basket makes more sense if you know that the basket is secure.

If immigrants have more children than people in the environments they left, it may be a response to the increased precarity of being an immigrant. Other studies have shown that the children of immigrants have birth rates similar to the natives of the countries they were born in, so it seems to be context-based.
posted by acb at 6:32 AM on August 3, 2012


Time for Carrousel
posted by Damienmce at 6:32 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


plunging birth rates are an enormous problem in many developed countries, in particular the Mediterranean countries of Europe: Italy, Greece, Spain etc.

The first time I visted a gynecologist in Greece (and my husband was along, because I really, really hate going to doctors anytime for anything, and especially gynecologists), she did my standard exam and then was super gungho promoting the idea of us having a baby... for mixing the gene pool or something, as she explained it (this, I think), and also, I guess, For Greece.

Coming from the US (in the mid '90s, at least, when reproductive politics was not so much a thing there -- maybe gynecologists randomly push babymaking on women these days?), that was so unexpected and weird to me. I wasn't really offended, though, and we happened to be sort of "oh, maybe we will" at that point, anyway, but economic factors made that decision for us: nope.

Now it's way past the point of choosing, plus at this point we're also well settled and happy in our childless state. We have a very pampered dog, though: A loss for Greece, a gain for caninekind.
posted by taz at 6:34 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell, this was at least funded, even if it might not have been commissioned, by Mentos. They have released mint with Singaporean colours, so there is *some* tie-up with an ad campaign, although to my ears, it's as politically subversive as anything produced by local civic-society/ theater types (like the playwright and poet, Alfian Sa'at, to whose interpretation I linked to). Which was quite interesting in itself; am trying to determine if they're playing this on local television or if it's a web-only thing.

Yeah, everyone speaks English here; in fact, quite a bit of the rap is in the local patois, Singlish, even if it was sung in an African-American accent.
posted by the cydonian at 6:34 AM on August 3, 2012



Yeah, everyone speaks English here; in fact, quite a bit of the rap is in the local patois, Singlish, even if it was sung in an African-American accent.


I heard that radio DJs in Singapore typically used American accents on air. Is this the case?
posted by acb at 6:47 AM on August 3, 2012


Declining populations are only a "problem" in that the economies of most countries assume infinite, neverending growth and don't function well given anything else. So rather than try and fix the broken economics (or allow immigration, although I can at least understand why that's contentious), many countries try to prop up birth rates. It's sad, really.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:57 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whaaaaat? That was pretty weird. Its also kind of funny that I first read about something local here, instead of via my other social networks.

KokuRyu: It seems like immigration might be the answer in Singapore, but, then again, from what I understand (a client runs a software business there), wages are low, taxes are high, and, in order to live there, it's really important to depend on family networks.

Actually, Singapore has pretty low taxes compared to many places, and immigration is generally quite easy if you're a highly skilled worker. Immigration has been one of the main ways the government has been trying to supplement the population, hence the ease for foreigners to gain citizenship here. The main problem though is that there is currently a lot of unhappiness amongst many Singaporeans about the influx of "foreign talents" flooding our shores; this has given rise to some amount of xenophobic behaviour, and is a major grouse many have against the ruling government (who some say as favouring foreigners over locals, which has some colonialist undertones too).
posted by destrius at 7:07 AM on August 3, 2012


I heard that radio DJs in Singapore typically used American accents on air. Is this the case?

To my ears, they all sound Singaporean, but closer to Received Pronunciation than the general populace. That is to say, clearly enunciated in the British colonial pattern, but often with the ends of words clipped like they do in Singlish.

That's for Singaporean RJ's obviously; expats (specifically thinking of the Flying Dutchman ) obviously retain their native accents, although I can't think of any American radio-caster here.

You can decide for yourself too! :)

or allow immigration, although I can at least understand why that's contentious

It is indeed getting to be contentious these days, but Singapore has been promoting immigration as well for the past generation or so.
posted by the cydonian at 7:08 AM on August 3, 2012


Whaaaaat? That was pretty weird. Its also kind of funny that I first read about something local here, instead of via my other social networks.

You have to agree, that was the most rhythmical, most raunchy usage of that Singaporean phrase "void deck" you'll ever hear. :)
posted by the cydonian at 7:17 AM on August 3, 2012


wages are low, taxes are high, and, in order to live there, it's really important to depend on family networks.

I'll agree that wages, especially for unskilled and manual labour, are very low, but taxes high? Really? I seriously doubt that - which countries are you comparing the tax rates with?

As for family networks, it depends. Quite a lot of my colleagues are from Malaysia (either Permanent Residents here, or naturalised citizens), so their family are mostly across the Causeway; but they seem to get on fine without an extended family network. We have a very high percentage of households with live-in domestic help though (mainly young girls from Indonesia, Phillipines, Sri Lanka et al.) especially for families with young children or old adults. So family networks are useful but not absolutely necessary. Unless you're talking about nepotism? That isn't as prominent here as it is, say, in China or Malaysia. Maybe for small businesses, but for the public sector (Lee family notwithstanding), MNCs and other large enterprises, nepotism would be very much the exception.

One of my friends made the pithy observation that while the government is keen on us going home to make more babies, they also want us to work late - why else would the Electronic Road Pricing (basically an automatic highway/business district/shopping district toll) be on till 10:30pm for the highways leading to residential estates?
posted by Alnedra at 7:50 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


It figures that it would be Sweden, where people are actually willing to pay for state programs.

Unfortunately, the reasons why people in Sweden are actually willing to pay for state programs can hardly be reproduced in any other place. This is a small, ridiculously affluent country of 9 million people who are overwhelmingly racially homogenous and share a common culture and traditions. Singapore is a rather quite different place.

As for China/Russia it is not so much that the Chinese population is growing, but that Russia's population is plunging: Russia's present population of about 143 million will plunge to about 107 million people by 2050. I guess that's an improvement over just killing your population in war or by socialist oppression, but still.
posted by three blind mice at 8:17 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love how young people these days are supposed to pay for school, buy a house, start having kids AND spend enough money to keep the economy humming (and even then they get the ZOMG THEY'RE NOT SAVING ANY MONEY! treatment). A lot of my friends decided against having more than one or two kids (I only know one person with three) - or decided to have none at all - because THEY CAN'T AFFORD TO.
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 8:27 AM on August 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


To which we can say, whatever, I guess. If young Italians are too self-centered to reproduce, then their society is broken and needs new blood.

Could we not do this again, please? A lot of people believe the opposite, that having kids (not adopting) is an inherently self-centered act. It may be good for capitalist economies, but it is not good for our species.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 9:04 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Official songs? They need to be handing out Al Green CDs at this rate.
posted by jonp72 at 10:56 AM on August 3, 2012


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