Friday, 2 October 2015

Singapore population hits 5.54 million as of June 2015 but growth slowest in a decade

Citizen marriages and births rose last year but growth sluggish due to curbs on foreign labour
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2015

Singapore's total population has hit 5.54 million, five years after crossing the five million mark, even though population growth in the 12-month period since June last year has sunk to an 11-year low.

The total number of people, including permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners working here, continues to rise sluggishly. It crept up just 1.2 per cent, a tad slower than the 1.3 per cent in the previous year.

These latest figures are from a National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) report out on Wednesday (Sept 30).

It shows citizen marriages and births were at a high last year, but these silver linings could not stave off the slower growth, which is a result of the Government's continued efforts to tamp down the hiring of foreign workers.

Singapore's population in brief. total population grew by some 1.2 per cent from 5.47 million in June last year to 5.54 million as of June this year. While there were increases in the number of citizen marriages, fertility rates, and the number of Singaporean births, the number of working citizens for Singaporeans aged 65 and above, declined.
Posted by The Straits Times on Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Growth of the resident population, which includes PRs, has stayed constant. As of June this year, there were 3.38 million citizens and 530,000 PRs.

In contrast, the non-resident pool grew a lot slower: 2.1 per cent against 2.9 per cent in the previous year. Nearly half the non-residents were work permit holders in occupations locals shun, like construction workers.

As businesses continue to face a tight labour market, the Government will help businesses explore more skills- and capital-intensive ways to grow, so that they continue to thrive and create quality jobs for Singaporeans, said the NPTD.

"The Government is committed to help Singaporeans do well in the workplace," it added.

One of the ways is through the SkillsFuture scheme, which lets Singaporeans upgrade themselves throughout their lives.

The clampdown on foreign labour is set to stay but there is good news for the resident population.

The number of citizen births last year was 33,193 - matching the numbers in 2012, which was the auspicious Dragon Year. The rise lifts the total fertility rate for residents from 1.19 in 2013 to 1.25 last year.

Singapore's flagging birth rates and its ageing population worry its leaders, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. At this year's National Day Rally, Mr Lee announced a slew of pro-family measures to boost numbers, including a more generous Baby Bonus package, larger Medisave grants for newborns and an extra week of paternity leave on a voluntary basis, giving fathers two weeks of leave.

More couples tied the knot last year too. There were 24,037 marriages involving at least one citizen - the most since 1997. Measures in recent years, like the Parenthood Priority Scheme, which helps married couples with children buy homes, and the introduction of paternity leave have helped.

"These improvements have provided couples with a favourable environment to make important decisions - marriage and setting up a family," said Dr Kang Soon-Hock, head of the social science core at SIM University.

Still, the population will continue to age, so the Government will continue its calibrated approach to immigration, taking in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens each year, said the NPTD. It has also given PR status to about 30,000 foreigners yearly since 2009 to keep numbers stable and maintain a pool of suitable candidates for citizenship. Most PRs are in the "prime working ages" of 25 to 49.

Said the NPTD: "Immigration helps to balance the shrinking and ageing of our citizen population."

'Too early to say Singapore is out of fertility slump'
Experts see the rise in number of marriages as a positive sign, but fertility rate still well below replacement level
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2015

The stork may have become a more regular visitor here as the number of citizen births climbed to 33,193 last year, but experts say it is too soon to tell if Singapore is out of its slump in birth rates.

"It is still too early to say if this will lead to a meaningful and sustainable pick-up in fertility and the number of births," said Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Christopher Gee. "But there are other indicators pointing towards a possible improvement."

The rise in number of marriages, for instance, suggests that more couples are on their way towards starting a family. The 24,037 marriages last year involving one Singapore citizen was the most since 1997.

The total fertility rate in 2000 was 1.6, but there has been a marked slide since then.

The 2014 rate of 1.25 was a welcome reprieve, and expectations are that there will be a bumper crop of babies in this year of Singapore's Golden Jubilee.

In his National Day Rally speech in August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong disclosed that almost 20,000 jubilee baby gift packages had been given out.

But the birth rate will remain well below the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman despite recent spikes, said National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

This means Singapore will continue to grapple with the problems of a greying population, and will need to replenish its stock of young people and encourage seniors to stay healthy and to learn to support themselves, he added.

Noted Mr Gee: "We have not seen anywhere else in the world a society with ultra-low fertility - a total fertility rate of less than 1.4 - succeed in moving the rate back towards replacement level."

Significant socio-economic changes would be needed to achieve this, he said.

This includes the age at which couples get married and the age at which women have children, with both moving towards the early 20s.

But a report on population released on Wednesday (Sept 30) by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) shows the trend here is the reverse.

The median age of Singapore citizen mothers when they have their first child was 30.3 last year, up from 29.2 a decade ago.

And men and women are getting married later. For men, it is now 30.1 - up from 29.4 in 2004. It is 27.9 for women, up from 26.3.

PM Lee noted in a speech earlier this year that if the total fertility rate stayed at 1.2, "then I think that is going to be much harder, even with immigration, to have a young and a vibrant population".

Singapore is also wrestling with the issue of a fast-ageing population. Those aged 65 and older formed 13.1 per cent of the citizen population as of June, up from 12.4 per cent in the same period last year.

There are now only 4.9 citizens in the working age band of 20 to 64 for every one aged 65 and above.

Foreigners have boosted the workforce, but the Government has said that there are limits to this growth.

Economist Song Seng Wun said that if population growth continues to plod along at its current pace of about 1.2 per cent, it will take about 14 to 15 years to increase the population by one million.

At that rate, the population will hit seven million by 2035.

The Population White Paper indicated a 6.9 million population figure in 2030 as a projection for the purpose of land use and infrastructure planning.

So if population growth continues at the current pace, the Government will have time to plan ahead and ensure that infrastructure is in place to accommodate the population, Mr Song said.

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