Made for Families – Can Singapore Do More?


Implications for Singapore

The Singapore Government has long recognised that promoting childbearing requires a “whole of society” effort. Faced with challenges such as rising costs of living amid geopolitical and economic uncertainty, more needs to be done. We can consider taking a leaf (or several) out of the books of success stories.

1. Child Homes: An Intergenerational Support Network

First, helping families in Singapore see that they do not have to raise their children alone is important. Setting up similar highly-subsidised “child homes” like Nagi’s which offer not just additional support besides preschools, but facilitate interaction between families and the wider community, could go a long way in doing so.

Having a constant network of support could also minimise incidents of child abuse occurring, whether due to caregiver stress or other factors. The elderly could be brought on board to help out with such child homes, promoting healthy ageing by increasing the number of vibrant and meaningful interactions in their lives. In fact, since PCF has both childcare and elder care, there might be a way to plan locations and activities to encourage such intergenerational bonding.

2. Financial Incentives to Boost Birth Rates

The cost of living being a major reason behind low birth rates dovetails with why “throwing money” at babies seems to work. Almost all 57 empirical studies on pro-natal policies in Europe, Canada, USA, and Australia have found positive effects; among the more promising measures are baby bonuses, child allowances and childcare, as well as subsidies for education and housing.

A reversal of the disincentives from the previous two-child policy is thus necessary in terms of financial and logistical support. To promote childbearing, benefits should be tiered according to the number of children that a family has. This could take the form of increasing childcare subsidies for each subsequent child, and adding to the number of days of childcare leave for those with more children.

3. Housing Policies for Family Growth

More equitable housing policies such as building more five-room Build-To-Order (BTO) flats (and not just in far-flung districts), child-dependent matching subsidies for both resale and BTO flats, and priority for five-room BTO flats could assure families that their housing needs will be met.

4. Rethinking COE Allocation for Equitable Mobility

Certificate of Entitlement (COE) prices have shot through the roof in a way that greatly exceeds the average Singaporean’s annual income, increasing financial and social inequalities. Perhaps it is time to consider a needs-basis policy for COEs: reserving a quota of COEs for those who really need cars to get around, such as parents with 2 or more young children, caregivers of elderly or those with medical needs, and other vulnerable groups.

5. Promoting Family Values through Education and Media

Finally, beyond the concerns of those who want children but face certain pressures in life, there is also the real and increasing phenomenon of those who prefer not to have children.

People need to be convinced that having children is a good thing, despite the economic costs and the giving up of one’s personal “freedoms” or lifestyle. Humans are social creatures who derive our identities in relation to others, not just from within. By having children, we become more than just mere individuals, and experience relationships with our children that are far deeper and more rewarding than we can have with many others.

To change hearts and minds, the Government must be prepared to invest in educational campaigns, and to stay invested for the long haul.

It needs to start with educating our youth and portraying big, healthy families in the media. Economist Lyman Stone argues that pro-natal fiscal policy is just one part of the picture: “There’s also research on mass media exposure’s impact on fertility. When families are portrayed in the media positively or negatively, or bigger or smaller, or with younger or older parents, it tends to influence their audiences.”

The pro-children narrative needs to go into the arts, into primary schools, secondary schools, and tertiary institutes. The media can, perhaps with some financial incentives, produce good television while portraying healthy families. The messaging must also reach the older generation so that they can be brought in as part of the “whole of society effort” to support those who are in the trenches of raising children.

The Urgency of Our Times

There have increasingly been calls for the government to go full throttle in the opposite direction to improve birth rates, including a suggestion raised by Workers’ Party Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Chua to enshrine flexi-work arrangements into law.

If one takes the proverbial example of the frog hopping out of a pot only when the water’s temperature is drastically changed, it might well be that radical measures are needed for a leap in birth rates.


To reduce reliance on social welfare policies, strengthening the family unit, encouraging more multi-generational and extended family ties is key. To quote a Straits Times opinion editor, the family can be “a stabilising force, giving people a reason to work hard”, reducing inequality through “large, extended families spread[ing] their good fortunes around and support[ing] each other through difficult times”.

Singapore can do more for families. There is no better way to foster a sense of belonging and a natural desire to uplift the vulnerable in our midst.

Cultivate SG
Cultivate SG
Cultivate SG (UEN No. 202231115H) is an organisation dedicated to “cultivating culture together for the common good”.

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