Saturday, 5 January 2013

Marriage and Parenthood Study 2012

Say 'I do' one day? Yes, but...
Most singles are either waiting for right partner or delayed by career
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 4 Jan 2013

WHILE the number of singles in Singapore continues to rise, the yearning to tie the knot one day remains strong, a survey has found.

What stops them from getting hitched, however, is that they either have yet to find their ideal soulmate, or they want to focus on their careers or studies first.

Married couples appear to face a similar gap between the ideal and the reality when it comes to parenthood: Many end up with fewer kids than they had originally intended, with financial worries topping the list of reasons.

This was the picture painted of Singapore's marriage and parenthood scene by the results of the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) survey, which were released yesterday.

The 2012 study, which is the latest in a series of surveys conducted on the issue, could help policy planners in their efforts to boost the nation's low birth rates. It also comes ahead of a package of measures to encourage marriage and parenthood that is expected to be announced later this month.

The survey, which covered 2,120 singles and 2,526 married people, found that a high proportion of singles - 83 per cent - want to get married.

Similar findings were made in surveys in 2004 and 2007. Yet singlehood rates continue to rise across all age groups, according to a different study done in 2011.

What's also been consistent are the top two reasons why many stay single - they were not able to find a suitable partner, or wanted to concentrate fully on jobs or studies first.

Experts and singles explained why so many singles had problems finding Mr or Miss Right. Socialising in Singapore, they said, can be difficult.

"The problem for most Singaporeans is our limited social circle," said sociologist Paulin Straughan, the principal consultant and investigator for the study.

"For young working adults, most of their time is spent at work. Most have little social contacts outside of the workplace."

Too true, agreed Ms Stacey Choe, 33.

"We tend to keep to our own groups here," said the manager in a non-governmental group who used to live in London.

"In other places, there tends to be more socialising with people outside our group, in places like bars and pubs. At parties, even couples would bring along single friends."

Another reason could be the mismatch of expectations between men and women.

According to the owner of dating agency Singles Mingles, women tend to prefer men who at least match their education and income level, whereas the men do not mind dating women who earn less and have lower qualifications.

Age is a key factor as well, said Mr Kelvin Ong. "Most guys want to meet girls below 30, while men in their 40s want women in their early 30s."

In fact, so many older men prefer younger women that his agency does not offer matchmaking services for women over 35.

For others, the problem is time. Half the singles surveyed said they just did not have enough time to meet new people or make new friends, while 42 per cent did not have time to date or find a partner.

As for singles who were already in serious relationships, money was the biggest issue when it came to tying the knot.

Asked why they were not getting married soon, 61 per cent said they wanted to save money for their new homes or wedding first, while about the same proportion felt they were still too young to marry.

Top 2 carrots: Maternity leave and baby bonus
That's what would-be parents rank as top incentives in new govt survey
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 4 Jan 2013

WOULD-BE parents have named maternity leave and the baby bonus as the top two incentives for making babies, according to a new government survey.

The finding, however, puzzles observers because the Government has given much attention and money to both schemes. Yet, Singapore's fertility rate remains stubbornly low.

Many married couples and experts interviewed on the study released yesterday are convinced the crux lies not in the amount of leave or cash but with attitudes at the workplace and in society.

"While cash incentives are good, they won't change parents' mind. They'll have kids with or without cash," said Mrs Joni Ong, the president of voluntary welfare organisation I Love Children and a mother of five.

The survey by the National Population and Talent Division asked married Singapore citizens and permanent residents, who made up just over half of the 4,646 surveyed, to rank five existing policies that would most likely persuade them to have kids. The five are part of the Government's marriage and parenthood package, which was last enhanced in 2008.

Respondents said the 16-month maternity leave and the baby bonus would be tops in coaxing them to have a child or more children.

The other policies are co-savings via the Child Development Account, using Medisave to defray pre-delivery and delivery costs, and parenthood tax rebates.

The baby bonus was introduced in 2001 and enhanced twice. Currently, eligible parents get a cash gift of $4,000 or $6,000 per child, depending on its birth order.

Whether such carrots encourage parents to procreate has been debated often in the past 10 years. Some, like air stewardess Sherry Chew, 31, say raising the baby bonus will help ease the financial burden of having kids.

Married last November to a teacher, also 31, she wants two children. But she worries about the cost of raising them - a common issue with would-be parents here. Her sister, who has a two-year-old son, used up the baby bonus in a year, she noted.

However, demographer Gavin Jones said raising the cash incentive is an "uncertain" solution as it would take a substantial sum to overcome other issues.

Still, the survey yielded a finding that surprised Professor Jones and other academics. About eight in 10 married respondents said they had a good work-life balance.

That ran counter to another finding that shows over half of the married and single respondents felt exhausted after work and said it kept them from spending time with family and friends.

A lack of work-life balance could explain the gap between the number of kids people want and the number they finally have. The survey shows the mean number of kids they hope for is 2.2; in reality, they have 1.5. A similar gap was found in surveys done in 2007 and 2004.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser has another explanation. "Parents are now more 'child-centric'... If they perceive they do not have sufficient time and money, they are less inclined to have more.''

The workplace must be more family-friendly, said young couples.Parents Ahmad Syakir, 33, and Siti Nurzakiah, 30, a social worker, said taking time off can be an issue when their daughter, Amelie, three, is sick.

It also boils down to parents' expectations and values.

Said Mrs Ong: "Bringing up a child is as expensive as you want it to be."

Added Mr Ahmad, a customer service officer: "Many put work above family but we put family first. Both of us work but we work so we can have a family."

'Worrying' ignorance of ticking biological clock
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 4 Jan 2013

SINGAPOREANS show a "worrying" lack of understanding about fertility, as they believe age is no more a major obstacle to having babies.

The great strides made in medical science have made it relatively easy to have children even beyond age 35, according to most of the 4,646 people polled in a government survey on marriage and parenthood.

This finding shows the need for greater effort at educating them about the relentless ticking of the biological clock, said sociologist Paulin Straughan.

She is principal consultant and investigator for the study done last year by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD).

She said that for the first time, the survey, done previously in 2004 and 2007, had a question to see if Singaporeans know whether fertility declines after a specified age.

So, respondents were asked whether they agreed with a statement that with the advancement of medical science, there is little problem having children even beyond age 35.

About 70 per cent of singles and 77 per cent of the married folk agreed or strongly agreed with it.

"This is worrying," said Dr Straughan, because studies show male and female fertility decline with age and technology cannot make up for it.

She said she introduced the question because she suspected "Singaporeans are forgetting we have a biological clock".

This "myth of a reality" is the result of advancements in reproduction technology and the rise in its use, she said.

Feeding this myth are the stories in the media, she added. "It does not help that nowadays we read of people who have kids in their late 30s or movie stars having children in their 40s."

One way to overcome the myth is to encourage older couples who struggled to have children to share their stories, suggested Mr Lim Soon Hock, chairman of the National Family Council.

"Instead of the Government getting preachy, we should get these people to share their problems so that others can have a fuller understanding," he said.

More young couples in their 20s having kids
More family-friendly work policies, greater sense of urgency cited for rise
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 5 Jan 2013

MORE young married couples in their 20s are having children, an increase parents and experts attribute to two main changes in Singapore.

These are: more family-friendly policies by the Government in the workplace, plus a greater sense of urgency to have children among these under-30s.

According to a new survey, the mean number of children that married people aged 30 and younger had last year was 0.9.

This is a near doubling in five years: In 2007, the figure from a similar study was 0.5.

The increase is probably because more people are having their first baby earlier, said Dr Mathew Mathews, a principal investigator of the survey on marriage and parenthood done last year by the National Population and Talent Division.

He pointed to the drop in the proportion of married 20-somethings who are childless. The group shrank to 42 per cent last year from 63 per cent in 2007.

The survey, released on Thursday, polled 4,646 people, and 2,526 of them were married.

The findings also show that a greater proportion of the 20-something group are having more than one child: Those with two children have more than doubled to 17 per cent, from 8 per cent in 2007.

But experts like sociologist Daniel Goh of the National University of Singapore cautioned against popping the champagne bottle.

Pointing to the steady decline in the total fertility rate, he said it does not signal that Singaporeans in general are having children earlier.

Rather, young couples could have wanted a Dragon baby, as the current Year of the Dragon is considered auspicious in Chinese culture.

Still, the increase is significant as it shows that the proportion of Dinks, or "double income no kids", is shrinking, said Dr Paulin Straughan, one of the study's principal investigators.

"These under-30s are going against the norm. We should find out what makes them buck the trend," she added.

Parents like Ms Kew Jia Hui, 29, said they were encouraged by the 16-week paid maternity leave, from 12 weeks - a change that was made in 2008.

Said the part-time database analyst and mother of a one-year-old girl: "The longer leave is very reasonable, and I'd consider having more kids if the paid leave is even longer."

She suggested that Singapore copy Britain and let mothers take a year off. "It'd help if we could be assured we still have our jobs after the year is up," she said.

Most female workers in Britain can take maternity leave of up to a year, but at lower pay.

Another reason often mentioned by young parents like Ms Srujana Challa is the fear that they will have less energy to mind their baby if they delay parenthood. Also, they will have to retire from work later in order to support their family, they said.

Ms Srujana, 27, a software engineer with a one-year-old son, also pointed to "medical complications as well when you have children later".

She added: "My husband and I also want to have two to three children, so we want to start as early as possible so that it would be easier to manage them as they grow up."

Other suggestions made include mandatory paternity leave, increased childcare subsidies and making it easier for young couples to get their flats faster.

Dr Goh said the Government could also improve work-life balance by adopting a roadmap and setting key performance indicators, much like the current productivity drive.

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