Dealing with Singapore’s low fertility rate

Johnson & Johnson. Ernst & Young. American Express. These companies, in three different fields, all have a common denominator: They are considered some of the best places to work if you have a family. 

Their progressive policies are worth examining, especially in Singapore. Despite being one of the world’s great economic success stories, the country’s fertility rates have reached an all time low, at 1.16 children per family. This is the lowest figure since 1.15 was reported in 2010, and the second lowest ever recorded. For context, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea have similar rates. 

What employers can do

Having children is a personal decision, but employers can play a big role in making it manageable. Women make up more than 50% of the population in many workplaces, and taking a holistic view of what workers need can make balancing work and family easier.  Ultimately, this will lead to better employee engagement and business results.

Employers can empower workers, with programs that could fit easily into established benefits plans. In Singapore, NTUC Income allows employees to work from home or part-time. They can also use their flexible benefit spending account for children’s medical, dental, childcare and school expenses.

Another example, Johnson & Johnson, offers an additional eight weeks of maternal, paternal and adoptive leave. They also offer fertility and surrogacy benefits. 

What’s holding back parents?

The cost of raising children in Singapore is a concern for young couples. Dual-income families are the norm, and so the lack of time for family is a factor when deciding how many children to have.  Even if having children wouldn’t affect career prospects, the cost of having and caring for children is high, even after it is subsidized.

Age is also a factor for first-time parents. Many couples in Singapore delay having children until they are in their 30s and 40s, due to their careers. In fact, for the first time in history, women in their 30s are having more children than women in their 20s1. Many couples delay having children even later, into their 40s.

Having children, especially for women, can slow career momentum. This delay can also affect natural fertility, which can lead to unexpected medical expenses.

Empowering employees

Employers can empower workers before and after starting families, with programs that could fit easily into established benefits plans.

Starting a family: By offering employees access to resources and tools, they can take ownership and better plan their personal finances. Ideally, this would be addressed before workers have families, so that can be on strong financial footing when they start families.

One in every four couples2 in developing countries faces problems when conceiving.  Many organizations are offering adoption, fertility and surrogacy benefits to help families across the spectrum of family planning.

Parenting friendly policies: Encouraging managers to adopt flexible work schedules can retain talent and defray child costs for workers. A 2016 study from the Working Mother magazine found that 80 percent of the women polled said that flexibility increased their productivity. Three quarters said it boosted their morale and motivation and increased their commitment to their employer.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study:
World Health Organization study

Dimitris Efthyvoulou
by Dimitris Efthyvoulou

Principal, South & East Asia Zone Senior Consultant, Mercer Marsh Benefits

Makana Ono
by Makana Ono

Associate, Japanese Business Advisory, Mercer Marsh Benefits

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