Could This Be Why; The Singapore Population is Shrinking? Part I
December 17, 2007
In the early 80’s the trend of forestalling the stork first surfaced predominantly affecting the ranks of professional women (but that was alright. Besides they were all batty and fortunately there wasn’t too many of them. The government even created a spinster happy home to accommodate this erudite lot, called, SPH “Sisters of Perpetual Hesitation.” Neither did it affect the baby bottom line either. In fact, the government saved all the men in Singapore from the purgatory of endless bitching.) Recently on a more disturbing note, we are told even the likes of Sengkang Sally seem to be hanging up their eggs while a chorus of “dowan’s” resound against the backdrop of the heartlands. It’s serious time; is everyone delaying the arrival of the stork? What’s really happening?
Yes, I know the usual run of the mill suspects: cost of living, time constrains, an uncertain future, stress and the impossible demands of juggling jobs and kids etc.
It’s a tough nut to crack: falling birth rates in Singapore or in any part of the world don’t even make the slightest sense not even to an economist (or for that matter even sociologist or any subject matter expert, though watching them field questions on the subject one is left with no doubt they know what is going on. When in fact they are equally as baffled as all of us). According to economic theory, the choice “to be or not to be,” hinges entirely on the concept of “Homo Economicus.” The hypothetical “Economic Man” who knows what he wants; his predilection can be expressed mathematically in terms of a “utility function.” And his choices in life are driven by rational calculations about how to maximize that function: whether couples eventually decide to start a family of one, two, three or more or not at all is based on comparisons of the marginal utility, or that added benefit that comes from making those decisions. If we consider the facts: no point in our history, are we richer, healthier and safer than ever before (so the tome of statistics tell us again and again).
Why then are couples shelving the whole idea of starting a family?
It’s easy to make fun of homo economicus, that sort of theory smacks of zoo keeping and poke it full of holes by suggesting: that model only holds true if human beings are numbers who can easily be reconciled, manipulated and coaxed into yielding a desirable value – fair enough, but it still doesn’t explain, despite the flaws of economic man albeit people do have preferences. Even if those preferences can’t really be expressed by a precise utility function; they still can be counted to make sensible decisions, even if they don’t maximize utility!
Sociological pundits would of course say, “Aha! There you have it Harphoon, the smoking gun!: economic man no longer sees the utility or benefit of raising kids, apart from being a perfect ball and chain, it’s a liability these days. After all Harphoon every industrialize country in the world is experiencing the same phenomenon. It’s not just Singapore who has this problem, its endemic! Duhhh!”
OK, but that argument only holds water if you didn’t realize that both France and Finland are exceptions to this general “Phillips curve” rule. That’s the cue for policymakers to step in and say,“Well that’s obvious Harphoon, those Scandinavians have a comprehensive welfare systems, Economic Man isn’t dumb! He knows that by having babies, he is going to get goodies in the form of day care centers in his work place not to mention tax breaks and parental holidays, which I might add, we don’t half get in Singapore because all those things cost money and the electorate just isn’t going to pay for it! Geez you must really be dumb Harphoon!”
Well, if that’s such a truism then why is there such a “big contradiction” in that argument vis-à-vis baby birthrates are proportional to the quantity and quality of the welfare. Why then are the poorest countries in the world (and don’t tell me its because poor countries are predominantly culturally agrarian, because you would be hard pressed to even find one inch of square footage greenery in either inner cities of Buenos Aries and Dhaka) experiencing the highest birthrates in the world, when they don’t even have the basic structural framework of a welfare state? See what I mean, it’s a tough nut to crack.
Like I said, this is a tough nut to crack and this is where we have to stop for the moment as this is the first segment of a two parter series.
(By Harphoon, Astroboy & Pumpman / Socio / Politics / EP 99037739 -2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)
Con’t Reading Part II Here