May 20th, 2010

Improve gender equality and you will raise fertility


The best way to get Singaporeans to produce more babies is to improve gender equality, AWARE says in a letter published on The Straits Times Forum page on 20 May 2010.

We wholeheartedly agree with the view of Professor Hans Rosling (ST, 12 May 2010) that Singapore has not seen a reversal in the decline of fertility rates because “fathers here are not rising to the task of child-rearing, and state support for equal parenting roles is not adequate.”

In our 2004 report “Beyond Babies: National Duty or Personal Choice”, we stated that there is a direct correlation between total fertility rates and gender equity.

Many people think that Singaporean women have achieved gender equality. However, compared to countries such as Australia, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States where the total fertility rate is now increasing, we have a long way to go.

In the last 30 years, women have entered the workplace in droves. More girls graduate from our universities than boys. However, these changes are asymmetrical. Men have not moved into the domestic sphere at the same rate.

This asymmetry makes child-rearing much less attractive for women. The woman who derives satisfaction from her work will not be keen to have any or many kids if she has to bear the bulk of the childcare burden. In the meantime, her husband does not lose sleep about balancing work and family life.

Whose problem is this and what can be done? The State, the market and the individual all play important roles in the determination of fertility decisions. Here are some considerations:

What is the message and effect when the State mandates four months paid maternity leave but not a day of paternity leave? Are we sending the message that fertility is solely a woman’s responsibility?

Adequate support structures for families and availability of flexi-work arrangements are key factors in countries which have seen positive fertility trends. In Singapore, however, part time work amounts to a miniscule 10% of employment. Why is this?

Are family friendly arrangements in workplaces equally available to male employees or do employers treat a male employee’s request to take time off to care for his sick kid less favourably?

How can we support more active fathering? The “Dads for Life” national campaign is a commendable initiative of the National Family Council and a step in the right direction.

Traditional gender roles not only deprive men of the opportunity to play an active role in their children’s lives but create an imbalanced environment where women are discouraged from having more kids.


  1. Angela

    There’s many views to low birth rate.
    1) Finances.
    Some couple may not even have the finances during prenancy, not to even talk about building family and having more children.

    However, finances issues is always there.

    2) Fatherly role.
    Fathers should try to contribute more in taking care of the children, as this definitely helps the mother alot. Anyway, the child is yours too. Fathers have motherly instinct too. Mothers should encourage and guide the fathers along how they can take care or interact better with their children.

    3)Career mothers
    If you want to be a mother, you have to piorities. Take your work seriously, but children comes 1st. Trust that your partner will take up the role of bringing the bread home. This will give you lesser stress and better attention to care for family.

    4)Government aid
    Of course, we hope that government can assist in more ways to make family planning easier.

    At the end of it, it boils down to each individual idea of having family. Everything can, and will be solved if you are positive about family planning. There’s no right or wrong. Couples looking at family planning, should communicate more.

    Good Luck to all!

  2. Anj

    Both parents should put their children as No. 1. Not just the mothers.

    There can be different roles for parents. But these roles should not be determined by gender, but by strengths. So for instance, if the mother is a better earner, it makes more sense for the father to take on the larger share of child-care.

  3. Another perspective

    Is fertility the issue?

    What is wrong with this world? We have Singapore government encouraging more babies, and a women organization pointing to a another perspective on how to have more babies… when babies all over the 3rd worlds are dying from disease and hunger?

    Many humans seem to think that they own the babies that are borne to them. They don’t, and after about 6 generations or so, they do not even have anything in them that can link you to them.

    Singapore want more babies. ADOPT!… not produce more… this EARTH does not need more humans!

    • corinna

      Is fertility the issue?

      Well, the Government does seem to be extremely concerned about this. But actually, AWARE does not think that this really is the issue for a few reasons.

      The earth is over-populated and Singapore seems to have accepted immigration as a policy to ensure that it maintains an optimum population size. What is more imperative is to focus on ensuring the success of the immigration and integration policies, which are tricky, rather than to be too concerned about fertility rates.

      I think this issue of population is worth exploring in greater detail in another article.

      However, my letter to the Straits Times was a response to the article on Professor Hans Rosling who said that gender equality definitely helps birth rates. And this is something that we wholeheartedly agree with. If we are to increase the total fertility rate, having more gender equality will be helpful.


  4. Edmund Kao

    I refer to the letter dated 20 May 2010 from AWARE.

    Citing a 2004 report is flawed. It is 2010 now. Things have changed. Have you move around the ground to have a feel about fathers’ participation? Many men has taken up flexible jobs such as taxi drivers, insurance agents and property agents etc so that they can send and pick up the kids from schools. Men do give up attractive job oppportunities from overseas because of our young family and young children. We do schedule their work around the activities of their kids as well so that we can send them for enrichment classes. Men do spend quality time and actively in playing with them. Check out the parks, kite flying, zoos, beaches, playgrounds and we take leave to go on holidays.

    I am a father of 2 and very actively involved in fatherhood. We do not have a domestic helper and my wife and i will share the load of caring for our children. I found the writer was being insensitive and inaccurate in saying this “…In the meantime, her husband does not lose sleep about balancing work and family life.” I found this sentence unfair and belittling of the effort we fathers have put in. I hope the writer can produce emphirical evidence to support this sentence. If not, the writer should retract this statement and make an apology for it.

  5. Corinna Lim

    Edmund, thank you for sharing. I totally agree that more fathers are getting involved in their children’s lives and that this is something that has started to change. The point i wanted to make is that the speed and extent at which women moved into the workplace is much greater than the men getting involved at home. This is the asymmetry that I am talking about. And yes, I was generalising. I am really glad that men like yourself are actively involved in fatherhood and I apologise for my insensitivity to you and other men who are active fathers.

    I am sure that you will agree that we have not come to a stage where most men play an equally significant role as their wives in taking care of the children, and that we still have some way to go. This is not men’s fault, but the product of a patriarchal system where, amongst other things, mandated maternity leave is 4 months and that of paternity leave is zero days.

  6. Ken Leong

    We have NO GENDER EQUALITY in the past. We have more babies. Almost all that knows some grand aunt or mother would have heard of someone having 10 kids. Its not uncommon.

    ROSLING does not deserve to be called professor or his awards for his statement on Singapore fathers. Has he done enough studies? Know enough true blue singapore man? NO NO and NO. Hence his comments are superficial and rejected. AWARE is just jumping into the opportunity.

    Singaporeans has answered to AWARE definintion and rejected it online. Its time AWARE retract your statements and apologize.

    Give men equal amount of maternity leave paid by goverment and extend maternity leave for both up to six months, give all expenses paid education, medical, food to kids until they are 18. and give parent additional 14 days parent leave each year paid by goverment, pay parents an appreciation fee of 50k each outright for their loss of income and career in long run. Let parents with at least 3 kids a 50% discount and immediate right to a 5 room HDB of their choice. Ask goverment to build many child care centres near offices and industries so that the parents can peek at their kids during lunch and reach them easily. At the same time, just ignore gender equality and I bet you things will reverse immediately. That will proof once again, gender equality is not and never the issue.

    It was never in history and never in future.

  7. petunialee

    Corinna, well done!

    At last AWARE seems to be moving beyond homosexuality to speaking for the mainstream woman. Lesbian rights are well and good but there is plenty of work here too.

    This is a raw topic and you will get lots of flak. Be brave.

  8. simon

    Gender equality = increase birth rate?
    What kind of stupid arugment is this?

    I assumed AWARE has forgotten the population explosion since WWII until 1970s? Did women during those years enjoyed the same level of “equality” that AWARE apparently is demanding?

    Local men wants children. Question is are today’s so-called “modern, educated and career-centric” females are up to the motherhood task? Women is plays a critical role in family creation. Blaming men for slow in getting into domestic roles is NOT the major factor in the birth rate decline.

    Before pointing fingers at Singaporean men, please question your own life-objective. You should be well “AWARE” of your own maternal instinct, of lack of.