On one hand, the national propaganda machine, the Straits Times:
Birth rates show only a slight increase
37,593 babies registered last year but 1.13% rise still below replacement needs
By T. Rajan
MORE babies were born in Singapore last year, but the annual increase was slight despite measures to boost Singapore's dwindling baby count.
A total of 37,593 babies were registered, an increase of 419 over 2004, according to latest official figures. This is an increase of 1.13 per cent.
At a replacement rate of 2.1, Singapore needs 50,000 babies a year to renew the population.
The 2005 figures from the Registry of Births and Deaths are, however, provisional numbers and may be revised upwards because not all actual births are immediately registered.
Analysts interviewed yesterday feel it is too early to tell if the baby-friendly incentives, introduced in August 2004, have succeeded in convincing Singaporeans to have more babies.
Said Professor Gavin Jones, a researcher at the National University of Singapore's Asia Research Institute:
'The key point is, it takes nine months for a baby to be produced. Some people take some time to get ready before they decide to have a child.'
However, in August last year, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr Vivian Balakrishnan applauded the 3 per cent rise in birth rates between May and July.
He had called the increase, over the same period in 2004, an 'encouraging sign'.
Singapore's birth rate has been falling for the past few years and last year, the total fertility rate dropped to an all-time low of 1.24 children for each woman residing here.
To reverse the trend, Singapore revised its pro-baby policy in August 2004 and gave more incentives.
Cash gifts were extended and given to the first and fourth child as well. Other measures include longer maternity leave of 12 weeks, instead of eight, and a lower maid levy.
Thomson Medical Centre says the pro-baby incentives were a factor but not the main reason couples gave for having a baby.
Said its spokesman: 'The decision on having a baby goes beyond the initial financial outlay of having a baby. The baby bonus is more of a bonus than the main reason to start a family or to have more children.'
The hospital has seen deliveries shoot up by 23 per cent, from 5,393 in 2004 to 6,628 last year.
On the other, Today:
WHEN the last series of statistics on Singapore's birth rate came out in September, there seemed to be little to smile about.
Announcing a rate of 1.24 children for each Singaporean woman in 2004, it marked a record low for Singapore's already-troubled birth rate.
Worse still, there seemed to be little indication of any effects from the $300-million Baby Bonus package put into effect in August 2004, following a lengthy study by population committee appointed by then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2003.
But a cacophony of tiny cries from hospitals around the country suggests that the alarming slide may have come to a halt.
According to checks done by Today, most hospitals in Singapore have seen an increase in the number of babies born since 2004 — a rise of between 10 and 20 per cent.
Thomson Medical Centre, for example, delivered 6,628 babies in 2005. This is an increase of 1,235 babies, or 23 per cent, compared to 2004.
Also, from August 2004 to July 2005, the private hospital delivered 6,112 babies — 49.7 per cent of which came from first-time mothers. This was up from 5,313 babies for the period August 2003 to July 2004, of which 48.7 per cent were first-time mothers.
Part of this increase could be due to the Baby Bonus measures.
"We feel that the increase in the number of deliveries at Thomson Medical Centre is attributable in part to the Baby Bonus package. We are very pleased with the Government's $300-million package and believe that it has and will continue to have a positive effect on the national birth rate," its spokesman told Today.
There were 1,670 deliveries at the Singapore General Hospital from August 2004 to July 2005. This is a rise from the 1,523 deliveries recorded for the period August 2003 to July 2004.
At the KK Women's and Children's Hospital, the number of first-time visits for outpatient pregnancy consultation has gone up by 5 per cent in the first half of 2005, as compared to the same period in 2004.
Even fertility experts like Associate Professor PC Wong, who is the chief of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology department at the National University Hospital, reported seeing a 30-per-cent increase in couples seeking treatment — from 45 couples before the Government's pro-baby measures, to 60 couples from Oct 2004 onwards.
Under the package, first-time parents get a cash incentive of $3,000.
There is an additional $6,000 grant for the second child, if the parents co-save the same amount. The Government will provide up to $18,000 cash and matching contributions if the baby is the third or fourth child. Maternity leave was also increased from two to three months.
Understandably, many first time mothers "pooh-poohed" the suggestion that the Baby Bonus made a difference.
One first-time mother said that while the bonus has helped defray the costs of buying basic necessities such as diapers and milk powder, it was not the main motivator.
"I'm enjoying it and I like it, but it was not a deciding factor for me to have a baby. I don't really think anybody will plan to have a baby because of the Baby Bonus," she said.
If the numbers do bear out, it will come as a welcome relief to Singapore, which has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, way below the required replacement rate of 2.1.
But National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan is adopting a wait-and-see attitude before breaking out the cigars.
"Well, so far so good, but let's see if it keeps up and translates into a net gain in fertility," she said.
But the academic was quick to add that the policy remained an important one as it "positions the family as a key aspect of our society".
"It sends the message that the state and society are behind parents and hence will be a much-appreciated gesture," she added.
What I want to know is if hospitals report 20% increases in deliveries, how come a measely 1.13% increase in official birth rate
What I want to know is how an increase of 419 babies born (from 37174 last year) can square with a 20% increase in deliveries
What I want to know is how a 3% increase in March to July 2005... is massively underwhelmed such that the actual rate for the entire year was only 1.13%