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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

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What number to use?

All that debate and angst over the Population White Paper and our incredible shrinking nation and a foreigner comes and tells us that we’ve got it all wrong! Here we are thinking that total fertility rate should ideally be 2.1 to replace parents, right? And screaming “fire!’’ because we are about 1.3 or so…. Prof Wolfgang Lutz says we are outdated.

For Singapore, the ideal would be 1.7. That old 2.1 figure assumes no change in life expectancy and immigration. So we are actually not too badly off, especially since the recent Marriage and Parenthood package says we can get the TFR back up to 1.6. “You have fewer children but you can invest more per child – and that will compensate the smaller size of this cohort,’’ he said at a lecture yesterday reported in ST.

Also, the figure doesn’t capture the fact that women may have children later in their life-time. Singapore women may in fact have 1.5 children over their life-time, he reckons. Due to the increase in child bearing age, birth rates appear lower than they actually are – a phenomenon dubbed the Tempo effect, he said as reported in BT. “Is it really our goal to expand the workforce? With fewer children, we can invest more per child. The benefit in terms of high productivity more than compensates for the smaller size of the population.’’

Then there is this age dependency ratio that we are so scared of. You know, so few young people fending for an increasingly aged society? That pyramid structure? This figure is 6.4 now and is expected to drop to 2.1 by 2030. But Prof Lutz thinks that the formula fails to take into account rising education levels which would lead to people working longer and staying healthier. Also better educated tend to be healthier so they wouldn’t be weighing so heavily on the healthcare system.

I had to turn to My Paper to find out that sociologist Chua Beng Huat also spoke at the same forum. He agreed with Prof Lutz’ views, saying: “We don’t need to have a population of 6.9 million. We should re-think the idea of dependency ration and from now until 2050, the status-quo birth rate is okay’’. Wow…did he say 2050?

Now, what is the G’s response to all this???? Were we barking up the wrong tree ?

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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