MP Carrie Tan’s speech during the debates on PMO’s Budget
I shall not beleaguer the point about Singapore’s dismal total fertility rate. What I do wish to emphasize is the reasons why we don’t have enough babies, and propose some measures to bring the numbers up.
One: Unequal care load between men and women.
Singaporean women struggle to juggle work and care in a large part due to the lack of men’s involvement in parenting. Utilization of paternity leave is at 53%. Fathers I have spoken to express a spectrum of challenges, ranging from:
“I don’t feel that I add much value at home. The baby only wants mommy.” to
“If I take leave I will have a pile-up of work, even more stressful.” to
“I still need to bring the bread home.”
This is consistent with studies that NPTD has done, which brings us to major factor TWO:
High work stress, no time and energy due to demands at work, make couples decide on having less children than what they would like to.
Such resistance to taking paternity leave, make worse by workplace demands makes it necessary for stronger government measures. My proposal is:
To mandate the 50-50 sharing of childbirth leave.
Currently, mothers receive 4 months of maternity leave, 2 months of which are subsidized by the Government. This has the unintended effect of discriminatory hiring by companies who hesitate to hire women especially those who are newly married, for fear of having to bear the financial and operational costs of paid maternity leave for 4 months.
To ensure higher usage of paternity leave, the government can mandate that the 4 months be split half-half between mother and father, with each of their employers getting subsidized for 1 month by the government. This will have an equalizing effect on hiring, and firms will find it easier to manage the absence of a staff for 2 months instead of 4.
Mandating paternity leave by law, and making the 1 month of government subsidy only available to both firms respectively if fathers fully utilize their paternity leave, will also compel companies to be supportive of their employees taking leave in the months post-birth.
To sweeten the deal for fathers, I would like to venture, the government may want to also offer fathers income tax reliefs which are currently given to mothers, if paternity leave is fully utilized. Of course, we need to provide infant care courses for dads, as it would be helpful to help fathers step up better and also set mother’s mind at ease.
With such measures, we can create in time a norm in societal expectation for fathers to be present and involved in the first months of an infant’s life, and subsequently as the child grows. Studies have shown that fathers who have a close relationship with their children contribute to their sons growing up with an increased inclination to be involved dads themselves.
If we want to cultivate a more positive mindset towards marriage and parenthood in our future generations, we need to ensure equal sharing of the load of care. The time is NOW for us to set a new norm.
Watch the speech here.