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The Conundrum of Falling Birth Rates

Dear COA Family,

Recently a piece of alarming news came up in the media.

Singapore’s resident total fertility rate (TFR) fell below 1 for the first time in 2023, to 0.97. A total fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman is needed to sustain a population.

This means that Singapore is on course to decline as a society or ramp up its immigration in order to sustain its economy and vibrancy. However, the latter is by no means a foolproof solution as other countries facing population decline also embarks on the same plan of action.

Various polls reveal the main reasons for such a phenomenon: from the high costs of raising children to the increased stress and anxiety of the uncertainty of not knowing how the child would grow or develop to the imbalanced gender expectations of childrearing.

While all of these reasons are no doubt valid, I believe that they have not gone deep enough to address the root issue. The fundamental reason is that we as a society are growing increasingly focused on pursuing our self-interests and fulfilling our own pleasures.

And therefore, what we are addressing is a spiritual issue at heart: we have become our own idols. God is no longer reigning as Lord in our lives; we are.

If all of life revolves around our own aspirations and desires, then children would rightly and naturally become a distraction at best or an impediment at worst. Time and energy spent on childcare or raising up teenagers would hinder our advancement in our workplaces, limit our social circles or hamper our self-development. Having children would only be helpful if they somehow aid us in our growth and progress.

Yet if we see this issue as a commandment from God to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28), then perhaps we may not be so quick to dismiss the idea of having children. We would think twice about our decisions to not have children. We would not be overly worried about the potential high costs of childrearing nor be too concerned about the uncertainty of the world our children would grow up in.

We would trust that in God’s good plan and purpose for humanity, that he would provide the means and resources for our families as well as fulfil his good will in our children in their generation. They will not be disadvantaged or endangered but rather, standing firm in the will and ways of God, be shining lights for Christ in their generation.

Perhaps this explains why despite the many tax breaks and financial inducements thrown by the Government at families to have children, it has hardly made a dent to the trend of decreasing birthrate. This is because it is not addressing the heart of the matter.

It is only when our whole society turn to the Lord in faith and trust in obedience to his will and his word, then there is true hope of flourishing as a society. Perhaps in this season’s focus on the upside down kingdom values of God compared to our world, we may learn to challenge our selfish and self-centred perspectives and live for God’s highest purposes.

Revd Ian