Thursday, 29 September 2016

Singapore's population grows 1.3% to 5.61 million from June 2015 to June 2016

Stable growth in resident, foreigner numbers but figures reflect rapidly ageing population
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2016

Singapore's total population reached 5.61 million in June, up by 1.3 per cent from the previous June, population figures released yesterday showed.

The number of residents and foreigners saw stable growth, similar to the past few years, but small shifts are taking place.

Last year had the highest annual number of Singaporean babies born in over a decade.

More maids are working here to take care of children and the rising number of elderly.

More dependants on long-term visit passes - typically, spouses from Asian countries - are also here to be with their Singaporean family members.

These developments reflect the calibrated approach to immigration over the past five years.

The trends are likely to persist as baby boomers' children start families, while their parents' generation grows older, observers said.

"The trends, particularly the need for foreign domestic workers, will continue, given our rapidly ageing population," said National University of Singapore sociology professor Tan Ern Ser.

But this dependence could be lessened if seniors stay healthy longer, relatives or neighbours help to take care of them, and more locals take up caregiving jobs, he added.

This year's Population in Brief report showed the citizen population grew by 1 per cent, to 3.41 million.

There were just under 30,000 new permanent residents last year, a figure that has stayed fairly constant since 2012. The non-resident pool grew by 2.5 per cent over the same period, to 1.67 million people.

Last year also saw a bumper crop of 33,725 citizen births.

This was the highest number of births in more than a decade, higher than in 2012, a Dragon Year, which the Chinese consider auspicious.

Citizen marriages also rose - the 23,805 marriages last year are above the average of 21,900 marriages a year over the past decade.

The number of new foreigners employed increased slightly. The Government tightened foreign manpower flow five years ago, resulting in foreign employment growth falling from 77,000 in 2011-2012 to 23,000 in 2014-2015.

This crept up to 27,000 last year, but "foreign workforce growth will continue to be moderated to supplement our local workforce in a sustainable manner", said the report.

To stay competitive in a tight labour market, businesses need to redesign jobs and restructure, it said.

Singapore continues to age, with more baby boomers - those born from 1947 to 1965 - retiring. About 13.7 per cent of citizens were aged 65 and older as of June, up from 13.1 per cent a year ago. This is in stark contrast to the 9.2 per cent of citizens in this category 10 years ago.

There are now 4.7 working-age citizens to each citizen aged 65 and above, compared with 6.9 in 2006.

Dr Kang Soon Hock, who heads the social science core at SIM University, said this may spur a rethink of the retirement age so people have enough for retirement. "The Government is taking a hard look at the dependency ratio. They are trying to push for a mindset change and encourage more to employ seniors."

This dependency ratio is projected to hit 2.3 in 2030, and the report said this trend "can only be alleviated over the longer term with more citizen births and immigration".

The Government said it will continue to grant between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizenships a year, mostly to those with family ties or who studied, worked or lived here.

Prof Tan sees a physical limit to the total population figure.

"Thus far, we have been able to attract immigration, but we may not be able to do so in future," he added.

More maids, foreign family members of citizens, in Singapore
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2016

Ms Carsih Carman Taja, 29, started working here two weeks ago to take care of her employer's ailing 82-year-old father, a stroke patient.

"I look after Ah Gong, change his diapers and help him with his physio," said the Indonesian of her duties, which she describes as difficult but rewarding.

She represents a growing number of non-residents in Singapore, which saw an increase in foreign domestic helpers as well as in dependants on long-term visit passes (LTVP), often citizens' spouses.

From June last year to this June, the non-resident population registered its first uptick in growth in five years - it grew 2.5 per cent to 1.67 million, compared with 2.1 per cent the previous year, a report on the latest population statistics released yesterday showed.

The growth in foreign domestic workers, who form about 14 per cent of the non-resident population here, has been on the rise.

There were 237,100 such workers as of June, or 5,600 more than in December last year, Manpower Ministry figures show.

Data on the total number of LTVP holders is not publicly available, but 18,622 foreigners married to Singaporeans were granted long-term visit passes between October 2014 and December last year.

Yesterday's Population in Brief 2016 report was released by the National Population and Talent Division in the Prime Minister's Office.

It said the increase in foreign domestic worker population growth "reflects Singaporeans' rising desire to augment their own care for their children and elderly".

This squares with the experience of PhD student Ching S. Sia, 33, who hired Ms Carsih as a second maid after her father suffered a stroke earlier this year. "In between work and keeping house, my first helper, mother and I needed that extra help. We went for caregiving training and it has helped make taking care of my father easier," she said.

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Paulin Straughan is not surprised by the increase in the number of maids, given the ageing population and general reliance on them for caregiving help.

"The question is, is this sustainable? The ageing population is set to increase dramatically," she said.

Fellow NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the growth rate could decline if Singaporeans reduce their dependence on such workers.

This would involve seniors staying healthy for longer, families mobilising the community to take care of their elderly, or using technology and redesigning jobs to attract more locals to do caregiving jobs.

Dr Tan added that countries that provide the bulk of these workers may choose to reduce the number of citizens who can go overseas for such jobs in the future.

"Economic growth in these countries may also render going overseas as foreign domestic workers less attractive," he added.

Yesterday's figures also reported a slight rise in foreign employment growth as of June - 27,000 compared with 23,000 in June last year - but this "remained low compared with the earlier part of the decade".

In comparison, the number of foreign hires grew by 77,000 from June 2011 to June 2012.

Rapid ageing a pressing issue
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2016

Population numbers are usually a source of existential angst for Singapore, and some of that angst resurfaced online after the latest figures were released on Monday.

The population here hit 5.6 million this June, a rise of 1.3 per cent or 72,300 people from a year ago.

The fact that the population is growing tends to trigger unease among some that conditions will get more difficult - with overcrowding and a stretched infrastructure. But the more worrying trend is that Singapore is ageing rapidly. As of end-June, 13.7 per cent of citizens were aged 65 and above, compared with 9.2 per cent 10 years ago.

And despite the bumper 33,725 citizen births last year, Singaporeans are not having enough babies to replace themselves. The resident total fertility rate was 1.24 last year and has hovered around there for the past 10 years, well below the 2.1 figure needed for a population to replace itself. These two trends mean there will be fewer workers to support a growing number of seniors. There are now 4.7 working-age citizens for every citizen aged 65 and older, compared with 6.9 in 2006. If birth and immigration rates stay the same, the number will halve to 2.3 in 2030.

To mitigate this, the Government has a strategy of encouraging more citizen births and topping up the shortfall with carefully controlled immigration.For now, the foreigner population is growing at a fairly stable pace. The foreign employment growth number was 27,000 for 2015-2016. The Government will also keep the annual number of new citizens and permanent residents (PRs) stable. There were 20,815 new citizens and 29,955 new PRs last year.

Whether this immigration strategy is enough to mitigate the ageing trend is a question Singapore will have to take a hard look at. The shortfall is going to grow. Will the number of new citizens, or even foreigners, have to go up?

Topline numbers like the 5.6 million total population figure are one thing. But questions of an ageing population, a smaller workforce, and the likely need to augment from outside are the larger and more pressing concerns Singapore has to address head-on.

Sheep year in 2015 saw highest number of babies in 13 years
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2016

The supposedly mild sheep has pummelled the most powerful beast in the Chinese zodiac calendar.

A mix of factors - the SG50 feel-good factor, more parental perks, and demographics - resulted in a bumper crop of Singaporean babies in 2015, the Year of the Sheep.

There were 33,725 citizen births, the highest number in the last 13 years, according to population figures released last week.

It eclipsed even the 33,238 births in 2012 - a dragon year which some Chinese consider to be the most auspicious, believing that those born under the sign would embody the creature's traits of dominance and intelligence. This is the first time in about two decades that the number of dragon babies has been overshadowed by those born in other years, based on available population statistics.

Ryker Jedd Ng was born just as the clock struck 12 on Aug 9 last year - the moment Singapore turned 50.

"We were in disbelief," said his mother Angeline Lim, 35.

One obvious reason to reach out for is the celebratory mood over Singapore's jubilee and the attendant enhanced parental perks on offer. But sociologists say demographics also played a large part.

"It could be because children of baby boomers are hitting about 30 years of age, which is the median age of citizen mothers at first birth," said National University of Singapore sociology professor Tan Ern Ser. "It is possible that the children of baby boomers may keep this up for the next decade, but that is subject to the economic climate."

Malays and Indians were more productive. The total fertility rate (TFR) for Malays increased from 1.73 in 2014 to 1.79 and that for Indians went from 1.13 to 1.15.

The TFR for Chinese declined from 1.13 to 1.10.

This pulled the overall TFR down a notch, from 1.25 to 1.24. The replacement TFR - which is when a population can replace itself - is 2.1.

Ms Kasthuri Davaraj, 28, had a son last May and is planning to try for another this year. "We have been married for two years so we felt the time was right to have a baby and we want to have a two-year gap for the next one," said the teacher.

The hope is that the trend will continue.

According to the Population in Brief 2016 report, Singapore will see larger cohorts of citizens approaching the peak marriage and parenthood ages over the next few years. Many are children of post-war baby boomers.

Already, last year saw 480,900 Singapore citizens in the age group of 20 to 29, a jump from 432,300 a decade earlier.

The Government's enticements may also be bearing some fruit.

Singapore began tackling its dearth of births in 1987 and over the years has offered, among other things, tax rebates, baby bonuses, priority in getting bigger HDB flats and subsidies at specified childcare centres.

Last year, significant perks were also proffered. They included a doubling of the one-week paternity leave and an extra $2,000 in baby bonus. Singaporean babies born last year also received a special birth certificate and gift set. Insurers jumped in to offer the newborns free health insurance.

Ms Joanne Sng, 34, who had her fourth child last September, said: "The parenthood benefits have increased quite a bit since we had our first child in 2008. The introduction of the paternity leave is especially appreciated."

While noting that incentives are not the paramount factors for parents in deciding to have children, parenting coach Chong Ee Jay, 37, whose wife gave birth to a son in September last year, said more support throughout the children's growing years would help.

Dr Kang Soon-Hock, head of the social science core at SIM University, thinks that there may be a possible "mindset change" among young Singaporeans who are starting to embrace parenthood.

"Previous Marriage and Parenthood packages have laid the groundwork and it is now showing results."

The outpouring of sentiments and discussions over Singapore's 50th birthday could also have helped.Dr Mathew Mathews, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, said: "I don't think people go out of their way to have a child just to be part of SG50 or to get a goodie bag."

He said that SG50 could have offered the final push to those who might otherwise have just waited.

Already, there is a very Singaporean concern coming to the fore. Some parents are concerned that their children being born last year could mean stiffer competition down the road.

"One consideration we had in planning for a baby last year was that the Year of the Sheep is usually not popular with Chinese families," said research and development engineer Jeremy Gan, 32, whose daughter was born in May last year.

"We thought she would not have to face as much competition in school but we couldn't be more wrong."

National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) Population in Brief report 2016

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