Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Why Scandinavian model is not ideal

LAST Saturday's articles ("Succeeding in Europe..." and "...Struggling in East Asia") highlighted the achievements in Europe, especially Scandinavian nations, in reversing declining birth rates, and East Asian countries' failure in that respect.

The first article reported on the generous handouts and incentives offered by the Scandinavian countries, such as long maternity and paternity leave. In contrast, the second article reported that handouts and incentives in East Asian countries are much less generous and more restrictive.

They gave an impression that the Scandinavian model works well, and that East Asian countries may have to follow suit to reverse declining birth rates.

We need to look a little deeper into what these Scandinavian nations have achieved. We should not take their birth statistics at face value. We also need to understand the negative impact their model has on their societies.

In his article "The end of marriage in Scandinavia", researcher Stanley Kurtz said "marriage is slowly dying in Scandinavia. A majority of children in Sweden and Norway are born out of wedlock. Sixty per cent of first-born children in Denmark have unmarried parents".

In Sweden, 55 per cent of babies are born out of wedlock. In contrast, it is 2 per cent in Japan.

Dr Kurtz further wrote: "The massive Swedish welfare state has largely displaced the family as provider. By guaranteeing jobs and income to every citizen (even children), the welfare state renders each individual independent. It's easier to divorce your spouse when the state will support you instead."

The Scandinavians' success in boosting birth rates not only comes with a huge fiscal burden, but also erosion in marriage and family institutions. For the Scandinavian model to work well - achieving close to 1.9 in total fertility rate in some years - acceptance of out-of-wedlock births and same-sex marriages are prerequisites.

Understanding these aspects would give us a better perspective of the direction we should pursue in our own Marriage and Parenthood Package, so that we do not blindly imitate any foreign model or scheme.

Ng Ya Ken
ST Forum, 29 Jan 2013

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