The two-child policy was a population control measure introduced by the Singapore government during the 1970s to encourage couples to have no more than two children.1 It was part of the second Five-Year National Family Planning Programme (1972–75) that was unveiled at the launch of the 1972 National Family Planning Campaign.2 As part of the two-child policy, the government introduced a set of disincentives pertaining to childbirth fees, income tax, maternity leave and prioritisation of public housing allocation aimed at penalising couples who had more than two children from 1 August 1973 onwards.3 In addition, the government launched an array of family-planning events to garner public support for the policy. Among the most notable activities were the publicity campaigns that carried messages such as “Small families, brighter future – Two is enough” and “The more you have, the less they get – Two is enough”.4
The National Family Planning Programme was an integral part of the government’s social and economic development strategy following Singapore’s independence in 1965.5 The programme was conceived when the government turned family planning into a national agenda after taking over the provision of family-planning services from the Singapore Family Planning Association in 1965, and setting up the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board in January 1966.6
The main goal of the programme was to reduce the nation’s birth rate and achieve a state of zero population growth such that the population would remain stable at a certain size due to an equal number of births and deaths. This was to be accomplished by encouraging people to set up smaller families and make use of contraception for family planning purposes.7
During the initial years of the programme, the focus was on promoting family planning and the desirability of a small family in general without actually specifying the ideal number of children.8 Social campaigns promoting the programme focused on spreading messages like “Plan your family” and “Singapore wants small families”.9 The programme also made available a wide range of contraceptive services through a network of family-planning, maternal and children’s health clinics operated by the government.10 These measures reduced the country’s crude birth rate from 28.3 to 21. 8 births per 1,000 residents between 1966 and 1969. The total fertility rate (TFR), which represents the average number of children a female would have during her reproductive years, dropped from 4.42 to 3.15 during the same period.11
Introduction of the two-child policy
From 1970 to 1972, however, the crude birth rate began to rise from 22.1 to 23.1 births per 1,000 residents.12 According to the government, the increase was caused by two factors. First, the baby boomers of the postwar years were getting married and beginning to have children of their own. Second, many people were still planning for large families with at least three children.13 In response, the government decided to step up its family-planning efforts and revised the small-family message exhorted by previous family-planning campaigns. The new message specified that couples, especially those who had lower educational qualifications and those from the lower-income groups, should not have more than two children.14
This two-child family policy was introduced by then Minister for Health Chua Sian Chin on 20 July 1972 during the launch of that year’s National Family Planning Campaign.15 The policy’s formulation was based on the calculation that an average of two children per family would eventually result in the stabilisation of Singapore’s population.16 In TFR terms, this meant reaching the replacement fertility rate of 2.1.17
Penalising large families
To implement the two-child family policy, Chua announced a set of measures in Parliament on 24 October 1972 to discourage couples from having more than two children.18 Coming into effect on 1 August 1973, the disincentives included: reduction of income tax relief to cover only the first three children; progressive increment of childbirth fees charged in government hospitals based on birth order; reduction of paid maternity leave from three to two confinements; and lowering the priority for allocation of Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats for families with more than two children.19
While unveiling the measures, Chua also highlighted the benefits of having smaller family units. He stated that for individual families, having fewer children would help ensure that parents were able to provide their offspring with proper housing, clothing, food and education. On a national scale, smaller family units would help raise living standards as the government would be able to distribute resources more evenly to create better jobs and improve public infrastructure for the population.20
Campaigning for a two-family norm
Besides introducing disincentives, the government also launched numerous family-planning activities to promote the message that having less children would be beneficial for the family. Many of these activities, which included exhibitions, talks and house-to-house visits, were conducted at the grassroots level by community leaders in the Citizens’ Consultative Committees, management committees of community centres and members of Parliament.21
In addition, the government continued organising social campaigns promoting family planning at the national level. Held throughout the year, these campaigns produced and distributed multilingual publicity materials such as booklets, posters and pamphlets to help couples make informed decisions when planning for a family.22 The campaign for a two-child household, however, was different from previous family planning campaigns that had been held since the National Family Programme was first launched in the late 1960s. The most significant difference was the deviation from the “small family” persuasion exhorted by previous family-planning campaigns to a more direct approach to convince couples to adopt the two-child family concept as a social norm.23
This change in approach was reflected in the introduction of campaigns carrying slogans such as “Small families, brighter future – Two is enough” and “The more you have, the less they get – Two is enough”.24 Messages, such as “Boy or girl – Two is enough” and “Take your time to say yes”, were also used to encourage couples to adopt the two-child family norm regardless of the sex of their children and to dissuade young people from early marriage and parenthood.25
Abortion Act 1974
The campaign for the two-child policy was accompanied by clinical measures that were introduced through new laws. In 1974, the Abortion Act was amended to introduce the principle of abortion on demand by liberalising and simplifying the process of getting an abortion. Among other changes, the new legislation removed the age requirement for abortion and allowed the procedure to be carried out with just a written consent from the pregnant woman. The Termination of Pregnancy Authorisation Board was also abolished as a result of the new law and thus pregnant women seeking abortion no longer needed approval from an authority. These women had to abide by the following regulations: the abortion must be conducted by a registered practitioner; the pregnancy was less than 24 weeks; and the women must have been Singapore citizens or residents for more than four months.26
Voluntary Sterilisation Act 1974
The Voluntary Sterilisation Act was enacted in 1974 to liberalise the conditions for sterilisation. It removed many restrictions set by the previous sterilisation legislation – for example, applicants must have at least two children and receive approval from the Eugenics Board, which was also abolished under the new legislation. In general, the new law was to make sterilisation an entirely private matter between the applicant and the doctor. Adult consent was only required if the applicant was younger than 21 years old and single.27
In addition to the new laws, incentives were introduced to encourage parents to undergo sterilisation. For instance, mothers working in the civil service who already had two children were given paid maternity leave if they chose to be sterilised after their latest delivery. Furthermore, mothers staying in Class B or Class C wards had their childbirth fees waived if either the father or mother underwent sterilisation within six months of the baby’s delivery.28
Results and revision
The various family planning measures and disincentives to help establish a two-child family norm effectively reduced Singapore’s fertility rate. From 1972 to 1986, the crude birth rate dropped from 23.1 to 14.8 births per 1,000 residents. In TFR terms, this translated to a plunge from 3.07 to 1.43 – a rate that was well below the replacement level of 2.1.29 The decline began in 1977 when the TFR dropped to 1.82 after reaching a high of 2.11 in 1976.30
Recognising the trend of falling birth rates, the government set up the Inter-Ministerial Population Committee in 1986 to monitor population trends as well as review and recommend changes to the population policy.31 The committee’s recommendations formed the basis of a new “Have three, or more if you can afford it” pro-natalist population policy, which was announced by then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on 1 March 1987.32 This new policy marked the end of the two-child population planning approach as various measures and incentives were subsequently introduced to encourage bigger families.33
Lim Tin Seng
1. Saw, S.-H. (2005). Population policies and programmes in Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 81. (Call no.: RSING 363.96095957 SAW)
2. Ministry of Culture. (1972, July 20). Speech by Mr Chua Sian Chin, Minister for Health, at the opening ceremony of the Family Planning Campaign 1972 at the Singapore Conference Hall on Thursday, 20th July 1972 at 2000 hours (pp. 1–3). Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
3. Saw, S.-H. (1980). Population control for zero growth in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 119. (Call no.: RSING 301.426095957 SAW); Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates - Official report (Hansard). (1972, October 24). Increase of accouchement charges for higher order of delivery (Vol. 32, cols. 152–154). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/report.jsp?currentPubID=00069266-ZZ
4. Saw, S.-H. (2005). Population policies and programmes in Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 29. (Call no.: RSING 363.96095957 SAW); Page 22 advertisements column 2. (1975, September 28). The Straits Times, p. 22; Page 4 advertisements column 2. (1976, January 7). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Saw, S.-H. (1980). Population control for zero growth in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 52–53. (Call no.: RSING 301.426095957 SAW)
6. Singapore Family Planning and Population Board. (1974). Eighth annual report of the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board 1973. Singapore: Singapore Family Planning & Population Board, p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 301.426 SFPPBA)
7. Chang, C.-T., et al. (1980). Culture and fertility: The case of Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 20–21. (Call no.: RCLOS 301.321095957 CHA); Family Planning and Population Board. (1974). Family planning seminar for community leaders of Boon Teck, Kim Keat, Kuo Chuan and Toa Payoh constituencies/community centres. Singapore: Family Planning and Population Board, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 301.426 FAM)
8. Chang, C.-T., et al. (1980). Culture and fertility: The case of Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 20–21. (Call no.: RCLOS 301.321095957 CHA); Yap, M. T. (2007). Singapore: Population, policies and programs. In W. C. Robinson & J. A. Ross (Eds.), The global family planning revolution: Three decades of population policies and programs. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, p. 205. (Call no.: RSING 363.9091724 GLO)
9. Saw, S.-H. (1980). Population control for zero growth in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 57. (Call no.: RSING 301.426095957 SAW)
10. Yap, M. T. (2007). Singapore: Population, policies and programs. In W. C. Robinson & J. A. Ross (Eds.). The global family planning revolution: Three decades of population policies and programmes. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, p. 206. (Call no.: RSING 363.9091724 GLO)
11. Saw, S.-H. (2012). The population of Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 155–156. (Call no.: RSING 304.6095957 SAW)
12. Saw, S.-H. (2012). The population of Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 156. (Call no.: RSING 304.6095957 SAW)
13. Singapore Family Planning and Population Board. (1973). Seventh annual report of the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board 1972. Singapore: Singapore Family Planning & Population Board, p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 301.426 SFPPBA)
14. Ministry of Culture. (1972, July 20). Speech by Mr Chua Sian Chin, Minister for Health, at the opening ceremony of the Family Planning Campaign 1972 at the Singapore Conference Hall on Thursday, 20th July 1972 at 2000 hours (pp. 1–3). Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Singapore Family Planning and Population Board. (1973). Seventh annual report of the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board 1972. Singapore: Singapore Family Planning & Population Board, p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 301.426 SFPPBA)
15. Ministry of Culture. (1972, July 20). Speech by Mr Chua Sian Chin, Minister for Health, at the opening ceremony of the Family Planning Campaign 1972 at the Singapore Conference Hall on Thursday, 20th July 1972 at 2000 hours (pp. 2–3). Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
16. Family Planning and Population Board. (1974). Family planning seminar for community leaders of Boon Teck, Kim Keat, Kuo Chuan and Toa Payoh constituencies/community centres. Singapore: Family Planning and Population Board, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 301.426 FAM)
17. Saw, S.-H. (2005). Population policies and programmes in Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 159. (Call no.: RSING 363.96095957 SAW)
18. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates - Official report (Hansard). (1972, October 24). Increase of accouchement charges for higher order of delivery (Vol. 32, cols. 152–154). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/report.jsp?currentPubID=00069266-ZZ; Ngiam, T. H. (1972, October 25). It’s dearer after two. The Straits Times, p. 1; Ngiam, T. H. (1972, October 25). Third child luxury for most people. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates - Official report (Hansard). (1972, October 24). Increase of accouchement charges for higher order of delivery (Vol. 32, cols. 152–154). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/report.jsp?currentPubID=00069266-ZZ; Saw, S.-H. (1980). Population control for zero growth in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 118–124. (Call no.: RSING 301.426095957 SAW)
20. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates - Official report (Hansard). (1972, October 24). Increase of accouchement charges for higher order of delivery (Vol. 32, cols. 149–152). Retrieved 2016, September 22 from Parliament of Singapore website: http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/report.jsp?currentPubID=00069266-ZZ; Ngiam, T. H. (1972, October 25). Third child luxury for most people. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Ministry of Culture. (1972, July 20). Speech by Mr Chua Sian Chin, minister for health and MP for MacPherson, at the opening ceremony of the Family Planning Campaign 1972 in the MacPherson Constituency on Saturday, 29 July 1972 at 2000 hours at the MacPherson Community Centre (p. 1). Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Singapore Family Planning and Population Board. (1974). Eighth annual report of the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board 1973. Singapore: Singapore Family Planning & Population Board, p. 3. (Call no.: RCLOS 301.426 SFPPBA)
22. Singapore Family Planning and Population Board. (1974). Eighth annual report of the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board 1973. Singapore: Singapore Family Planning & Population Board, pp. 44–48. (Call no.: RCLOS 301.426 SFPPBA)
23. Chang, C.-T., et al. (1980). Culture and fertility: The case of Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 20–21. (Call no.: RCLOS 301.321095957 CHA); Saw, S.-H. (2005). Population policies and programmes in Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 29. (Call no.: RSING 363.96095957 SAW)
24. Page 22 advertisements column 2. (1975, September 28). The Straits Times, p. 22; Page 4 advertisements column 2. (1976, January 7). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Saw, S. H. (1980). Population control for zero growth in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 57. (Call no.: RSING 301.426095957 SAW)
26. Saw, S.-H. (2005). Population policies and programmes in Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 50–52. (Call no.: RSING 363.96095957 SAW)
27. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates - Official report (Hansard). (1974, November 6). Voluntary Sterilisation Bill (Vol. 33, cols. 1140–1142). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/report.jsp?currentPubID=00069301-ZZ
28. Saw, S.-H. (2005). Population policies and programmes in Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 82, 84. (Call no.: RSING 363.96095957 SAW)
29. Saw, S.-H. (2012). The population of Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 156. (Call no.: RSING 304.6095957 SAW); Department of Statistics Singapore. (2015). Population trend, 2015 (p. 117). Retrieved from Department of Statistics Singapore website: http://www.singstat.gov.sg/publications/publications-and-papers/population-and-population-structure/population-trends
30. Saw, S.-H. (2012). The population of Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 177. (Call no.: RSING 304.6095957 SAW)
31. Saw, S.-H. (2012). The population of Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 176. (Call no.: RSING 304.6095957 SAW); Population panel set up to monitor trends. (1986, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. John, A. (1987, March 2). Have 3, or more if you can afford it. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Saw, S.-H. (2012). The population of Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 215. (Call no.: RSING 304.6095957 SAW); John, A. (1987, March 2). Have 3, or more if you can afford it. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 22 November 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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Population planning in Singapore spans two distinct phases: first to slow and reverse the boom in births that started after World War II; and then, from the 1980s onwards, to encourage parents to have more children because birth numbers had fallen below replacement levels. Government eugenics policies favoured both phases. In 1960s and 1970s, the antinatalist policies flourished. The Family Planning and Population Board (FPPB) of Singapore was established, initially advocating small families but eventually running the "Stop-at-Two" programme, which pushed for small two-children families and promoted sterilisation in order to have population control. From 1969 it was also used by government leaders to target lowly educated and low-income women in an experiment with eugenics policies to solve social concerns.
Government leaders also announced the Graduate Mothers' Scheme in 1984, which favoured the children of mothers with a university degree in primary school placement and registration process over the lesser-educated. After the outcry in the 1984 general elections it was eventually scrapped.
Singapore had also been undergoing the demographic transition and birth rates had fallen precipitously. The government eventually became pro-natalist, and officially announced its replacement "Have-Three-or-More (if you can afford it)" in 1987, in which the government continued its efforts to better the quality and quantity of the population while discouraging low-income families from having children. The Social Development Unit (SDU) was also established in 1984 to promote marriage and romance between educated individuals.
Different sources have offered differing judgments on the government policies' impact on the population structure of Singapore. While Stop at Two has been described as basically successful or "over-successful", sceptics of interventionism claim that the demographic transition would have occurred anyway – noting that the government's attempts at reversing the falling birth rates due to the demographic transition have been less than successful.
Post war trends and family planning
See also: Demographics of Singapore
From 1947 to 1957, the social forces which caused the post–World War II baby boom elsewhere in the world also occurred in Singapore. The birth rate rose and the death rate fell; the average annual growth rate was 4.4%, of which 1% was due to immigration; Singapore experienced its highest birth rate in 1957 at 42.7 per thousand individuals. (This was also the same year the United States saw its peak birth rate.)
Family planning was introduced to Singapore in 1949 by a group of volunteers led by Constance Goh that eventually became the Family Planning Association of Singapore and established numerous sexual health clinics offering contraception, treatments for minor gynaecological ailments, and marital advice. Until the 1960s there was no official government policy in these matters, but the postwar British colonial administration, followed by the Singaporean government, played an increasingly important role by providing ever larger grants to the Association, as well as land for its facilities network, culminating in 1960 with a three-month nationwide family planning campaign that was jointly conducted by the Association and government. The population growth rate slowed from 4–5% per year in the 1950s to around 2.5% in 1965 around independence. The birth rate had fallen to 29.5 per thousand individuals, and the natural growth rate had fallen to 2.5%.
Singapore's population expansion can be seen in the graph below:
At the time of independence, many Singaporeans lived in the Central Area in overcrowded shophouses; and the bulk of the work of the Housing Development Board had not yet been completed. In 1947, the British Housing Committee Report noted Singapore had "one of the world's worst slums – 'a disgrace to a civilised community'", and the average person per building density was 18.2 by 1947 (high-rise buildings had yet to be constructed en masse); about 550,000 people lived in squalid squatter settlements or "ramshackle shophouses" by 1966. Rapid population growth was perceived as a threat to "political stability and living standards" that led to population overcrowding that would overwhelm employment opportunities and social services in education, health and sanitation.
Despite their fall since 1957, birth rates in the 1960s were still perceived as high. On average, a baby was born every 11 minutes in 1965; Kandang Kerbau Hospital (KKH) – a women's hospital where most babies in Singapore were delivered – saw over 100 deliveries per day in 1962. In 1966, KKH delivered 39,835 babies, earning it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for "largest number of births in a single maternity facility" each year for ten years. Because there was generally a massive shortage of beds in that era, mothers with routine deliveries were discharged from hospitals within 24 hours.
Establishment of the FPPB
In 1959, the People's Action Party came to power, and in September 1965 the Minister for Health, Yong Nyuk Lin, submitted a white paper to Parliament, recommending a Five-year Mass Family Planning programme that would reduce the birth rate to 20.0 per thousand individuals by 1970. This was to become the National Family Programme; in 1966, the Family Planning and Population Board (FPPB) had been established based on the findings of the white paper, providing clinical services and public education on family planning. Initially allocated a budget of $1 million SGD for the entire programme, the FPPB faced a resistant population, but eventually serviced over 156,000. The Family Planning Association was absorbed into the activities of the FPPB.
Lee Kuan Yew as first Prime Minister of Singapore held wide sway over the government's social policies before 1990. Lee Kuan Yew was recorded in 1967 as believing that "five percent" of a society's population, "who are more than ordinarily endowed physically and mentally," should be allocated the best of a country's limited resources to provide "a catalyst" for that society's progress. Such a policy for Singapore would "ensure that Singapore shall maintain its pre-eminent place" in Southeast Asia. Similar views shaped education policy and meritocracy in Singapore.
In the late 1960s, Singapore was a developing nation and had not yet undergone the demographic transition; though birth rates fell from 1957 to 1970, in 1970, birth rates rose as women who were themselves the product of the postwar baby boom reached maturity. Fearing that Singapore's growing population might overburden the developing economy, Lee started a vigorous Stop at Two family planning campaign. Abortion and sterilisation were legalised in 1970, and women were urged to get sterilised after their second child. Women without O-Level qualifications, deemed low-income and lowly educated, were offered by the government seven days' paid sick leave and $10,000 SGD in cash incentives to voluntarily undergo the procedure.
The government also added a gradually increasing array of disincentives penalising parents for having more than two children between 1969 and 1972, raising the per-child costs of each additional child:
- Workers in the public sector would not receive maternity leave for their third child or any subsequent children
- Hospitals were required to charge incrementally higher fees for each additional child.
- Income tax deductions would only be given for the first two children
- Large families were penalised in housing assignments.
- Third or fourth children were given lower priorities in education;
- Top priority in top-tier primary schools would be given only to children whose parents had been sterilised before the age of forty.
The government created a large array of public education material for the Stop-at-Two campaign, in one of the early examples of the public social engineering campaigns the government would continue to implement (Speak Mandarin, Speak Good English, National Courtesy, Keep Singapore Clean and Toilet Flushing Campaigns) that would lead to its reputation as "paternalistic" and "interventionist" in social affairs. The "Stop at Two" media campaign from 1970 to 1976 was led by Basskaran Nair, press section head of the Ministry of Culture, and created posters with lasting legacy: a 2008 Straits Times article wrote, "many middle-aged Singaporeans will remember the poster of two cute girls sharing an umbrella and an apple: The umbrella fit two nicely. Three would have been a crowd." This same poster was also referred to in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's 2008 National Day Rally speech. Many other posters from the "iconic" campaign included similar themes of being content with two girls, to combat the common trend in developing Asian societies for families with only daughters to continue "trying for a boy".
In addition to promoting just having two children, the government also encouraged individuals to delay having their second child and to marry late, reinforcing the inevitable demographic transition. Other slogans and campaign material exhorted Singaporeans with such messages as:
- "Small Families – Brighter Future: Two is enough" (this message captioned a photo of two young girls)
- "The second can wait" (a mother and father are seen as being happy with one child)
- "Teenage marriage means rushing into problems: A happy marriage is worth waiting for"
- "One, Two: And that's ideal: Sterilisation, the best method for Family Limitation" (shown with a cartoon of two girls' faces)
- "Take your time to say 'yes'"
- Small Family: Brighter Future
- "Please stop at two!" (a stork carries a four-member nuclear family)
The Straits Times interviewed mothers who were sterilised in that era, noting it was common to get sterilised at a young age, citing a woman who had undergone tubal ligation at KKH at the age of 23, herself coming from a large family of ten. "The pressure [disincentives] was high. The Government clearly didn't want us to have more than two." A gynaecologist doctor who worked KKH recalled sterilisation rates became "sky high" after the disincentives had been implemented; it was common for hospital workers to chide women who were pregnant with third-order or higher births, recommending abortions, while such women talked about their pregnancy "[as if] they committed a crime". The Straits Times also suggested the disincentives had been very effective; one woman cited how sterilisation certification had to be shown to a school for a third child to receive priority, while she and four out of five sisters eventually underwent sterilisation. Expensive delivery fees ("accouchement fees") for third-order and higher births would also be waived with sterilisation.
The campaign was known to target the uneducated in particular; Lee believed that, "Free education and subsidised housing lead to a situation where the less economically productive people ... are reproducing themselves at [a higher rate]." He believed that implementing a system of government disincentives would stop "the irresponsible, the social delinquents" from thinking that having more children would entitle them to more government-provided social services.
- We must encourage those who earn less than $200 per month and cannot afford to nurture and educate many children never to have more than two...we will regret the time lost if we do not now take the first tentative steps towards correcting a trend which can leave our society with a large number of the physically, intellectually and culturally anaemic.Lee Kuan Yew, 1969
The government justified its social policy as a means of encouraging the poor to concentrate their limited resources on nurturing their existing children, making them more likely to be capable, productive citizens. The government also had to respond to criticism that this policy favoured Chinese over minority races; Malays and Indians were stereotyped to have higher birth rates and bigger families than the Chinese, further fuelling accusations of eugenics.
The demographic transition and the Graduate Mothers Scheme
As Singapore modernised in the 1970s, fertility continued to drop. The natural replacement rate reached 1.006 in 1975; thereafter the replacement rate would drop below unity. Furthermore, the so-called "demographic gift" was occurring in Singapore as with other countries; increases in income, education and health and the role of women in the workforce were strongly correlated to levels of low population growth. According to a paper by the Library of Congress, by the 1980s, "Singapore's vital statistics resembled those of other countries with comparable income levels but without Singapore's publicity campaigns and elaborate array of administrative incentives."
Lee Kuan Yew was alarmed at the perceived demographic trend that educated women – most of all the college-educated – would be less likely to marry and procreate. Such a trend would run antithetical to his demographic policy, and part of this failure, Lee conjectured, was "the apparent preference of male university graduates for less highly educated wives". This trend was deemed in a 1983 speech as "a serious social problem". Starting 1984, the government of Singapore gave education and housing priorities, tax rebates and other benefits to mothers with a university degree, as well as their children. The government also encouraged Singapore men to choose highly educated women as wives, establishing the Social Development Unit (SDU) that year to promote socialising among men and women graduates, a unit that was also nicknamed "Single, Desperate and Ugly". The government also provided incentives for educated mothers to have three or four children, in what was the beginning of the reversal of the original Stop at Two policy. The measures sparked controversy and what became known as The Great Marriage Debate in the press. Some sections of the population, including graduate women, were upset by the views of Lee Kuan Yew, who had questioned that perhaps the campaign for women's rights had been too successful:
Equal employment opportunities, yes, but we shouldn't get our women into jobs where they cannot, at the same time, be mothers...our most valuable asset is in the ability of our people, yet we are frittering away this asset through the unintended consequences of changes in our education policy and equal career opportunities for women. This has affected their traditional role ... as mothers, the creators and protectors of the next generation.
— Lee Kuan Yew, "Talent for the future", 14 August 1983
In 1985, especially controversial portions of the policy that gave education and housing priorities to educated women were eventually abandoned or modified.
A 1992 study noted that 61% of women giving birth had secondary education or higher, but this proportion dropped for third-order births (52%) and fourth-or-higher-order births (36%), supporting the idea that more children per capita continue to be born to women with less qualifications, and correspondingly, lower income. This issue is greatly known as the Great Marriage Debate. Many incentives were given to graduate women to marry and give birth to produce babies which were believed to be 'highly intelligent' to maximise the talent pool in Singapore.
Have-Three-or-More (if you can afford it)
In 1986 the Government of Singapore had recognised that falling birth rates were a serious problem and began to reverse its past policy of Stop-at-Two, encouraging higher birth rates instead. By 30 June of that year, the authorities had abolished the Family Planning and Population Board, and by 1987, the total fertility rate had dropped to 1.44. That year, Goh Chok Tong announced a new slogan: Have Three or More (if you can afford it), announcing that the government now promoted a larger family size of three or more children for married couples who could afford them, and promoted "the joys of marriage and parenthood". The new policy took into account Singapore's falling fertility rate and its increased proportion of the elderly, but was still concerned with the "disproportionate procreation" of the educated versus the uneducated, and discouraged having more than two children if the couple did not have sufficient income, to minimise the amount of welfare aid spent on such families. The government also relaxed its immigration policies.
In October 1987, future Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, then a young Brigadier-General, exhorted Singaporeans to procreate rather than "passively watch ourselves going extinct".United Press International noted the "baffled" reaction of parents, many who had grown up in an era where they were told that having more than two children was "antisocial". One parent commented, "are we being told to have more children for the sake of the country or for ourselves?" Goh Chok Tong, despite the scepticism, remained optimistic that the population rate would be restored to the replacement rate by 1995. An NUS sociologist however, observed that Singapore had "a new breed of women" – one "involved in their careers [and] used to a certain amount of leisure and more material possessions" – and hence would not be as receptive to financial incentives as previous women of the 1960s and the 1970s. As of 2011[update], Singapore's birth rate has not yet been restored to replacement level.
Policy comparisons between Have-Three-or-More and Stop-at-Two, starting 1988
- Mothers with a third child would get 750 SGD in child relief (factoring historic exchange rates, this was about $662 in 2010 US dollars). If a mother had three 'O'-level passes in one sitting, she would qualify for an enhanced child relief rebate (lowered from a threshold of five passes). Having a fourth child would qualify for enhanced child relief of 750 SGD plus 15% of the mother's income, up to 10000 SGD.
- All disincentives and penalties given in school registration to families with more than two children are to be removed; in the presence of competition, priority would be allocated to families with more than two children.
- Subsidies for each child in a government-run or government-approved child care centre
- Medisave could now be authorised for hospital costs of a third child (previously forbidden under the Stop at Two policy)
- Families with more than two children with a HDB flat of three rooms or higher would receive priority if they desired to upgrade to a larger flat
- "Abortions of convenience" discouraged, with compulsory abortion counselling
- Women undergoing sterilisation with less than three children would receive compulsory counselling
- Expansion of the SDU's role and authority; recognising that the low birth rate reflected late marriages, the SDU also wooed those with postsecondary A-level qualifications rather than just college graduates
- Starting 1990, a tax rebate of 20,000 SGD (US$18,000 in 2010 dollars, factoring historic exchange rates) were given to mothers who had their second child before the age of 28
- Starting 1993, the sterilisation cash grant for lowly educated women was liberalised, allowing women to agree to use reversible contraception rather than sterilisation; educational bursaries for existing children were added as existing benefits, so long as the number did not exceed two.
Modern legacy and current practices
The modern SDU, renamed the Social Development Network in 2009, encourages all Singaporean couples to procreate and marry to reverse Singapore's negative replacement rate. Some of the social welfare, dating and marriage encouragement, and family planning policies are also managed by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.
Channel NewsAsia reported in January 2011 that the fertility rate of Singaporeans in 2010 were 1.02 for Chinese, 1.13 for Indians and 1.65 for Malays. In 2008, Lee Kuan Yew said the below-national-average birth rate for the Chinese was a "worrying trend". That same year, he was quoted as saying, "[If] you marry a non-graduate, then you are going to worry if your son or daughter is going to make it to the university."
Different sources have offered differing judgments on the government policies' impact on the population structure of Singapore. While most agree that the policies have been very interventionist, comprehensive and broad, the Library of Congress Country Study argues "it is impossible to separate the effects of government policies from the broader socioeconomic forces promoting later marriage and smaller families," suggesting that the government could only work with or work against much more powerful natural demographic trends. To the researchers of the study, the methods used in 1987 to attempt to reverse the falling birth rate was a demonstration of "the government's [continued] assumption" that citizens were receptive towards monetary incentives and administrative allocation of social services when it came to family planning.
However Saw Swee Hock, a statistician and demographer quoted in the Straits Times in 2008, argued the demographic transition "was rapid because of the government's strong population control measures," but also admitted that, "even without the Stop at Two policy, the [total fertility rate] would have gone below 2.1 due to [the demographic transition]." When demographic transition statistics are examined – in 1960, the total fertility rate was approximately ~6 – Asian MetaCentre researcher Theresa Wong notes that Singaporean birth rates and death rates fell dramatically in a period that occurred over "much shorter time period than in Western countries," yet such a short time frame is also seen in other Southeast Asian countries, where family planning campaigns were much less aggressive. According to Saw Swee Hock, "the measures were comprehensive and strong, but they weren't reversed quickly enough".
Though newer modern policies exhibit "signs that the government is beginning to recognise the ineffectiveness of a purely monetary approach to increasing birth rates", a former civil servant noted that the government needs "to learn to fine-tune to the emotions rather than to dollars and cents. It should appeal more to the sense of fulfilment of having children". Such measures include promoting workplaces that encourage spending time with the family, and creating a "Romancing Singapore Campaign" that "[directly avoided being linked] to pro-children and pro-family initiatives," since "people get turned off" when the government appears to intervene in such intimate social affairs as marriage. However, this is still seen by some citizens as "trivialising" love and "emotional expression", which "should not be engineered". In 2001, the government announced a Baby Bonus scheme, which paid $9000 SGD for the second child and $18000 for the third child over six years to "defray the costs of having children", and would match "dollar for dollar" what money parents would put into a Child Development Account (CDA) up to $6000 and $12000 for the second and third child respectively. In 2002, Goh Chok Tong advised "pragmatic" late marriers "to act fast. The timing is good now to get a choice flat to start a family."
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