Critique on SGPolCom’s 4-part “Stop At Two” policy analysis

Dear TREmeritus,

I refer to the series of four articles [1], [2], [3], [4] by SGPolCom.

In its first article [1],

  • SGPolCom claimed that from 1977 onwards, the government battled Singapore’s decreasing birth rate.
  • It also claimed that LKY’s population stymying policies were only up till 1977 and that in six short years, the entire government did a reversal of their objectives.
  • In the second article [2], SGPolCom claimed that 1978 marked the end of population disincentive policies.

    SGPolCom then contradicted itself when it wrote in its third article [3] of a Mr Joe Lim, now 60, who paid fines in 1981 and 1983 for having his third and fourth children respectively.

  • How could the government have battled decreasing birth rate from 1977 onwards when it was still fining people in 1981 and 1983?
  • How could the entire government have done a reversal in six short years (till 1977) when it was still fining people in 1981 and 1983?
  • How could 1978 mark the end of population disincentive policies when the government was still fining people in 1981 and 1983?
  • The “Have Three or More (if you can afford it)” policy in 1987 is the more appropriate break point from population disincentives though it wasn’t from 1988 onwards that a third child would get a child relief instead of a fine. Therefore, population disincentives lasted up till 1986, about a decade longer than what SGPolCom would want us to believe. SGPolCom’s so-called fertility boosting policies in 1983 [1] weren’t fertility boosting policies per say but eugenics policies.

    A parallel universe

    In creating its parallel universe, SGPolCom confined the period of population disincentives to between 1970 and 1978. But disincentives to large families was introduced in 1969 [5-1]; the government’s first Five Year Plan to curb population growth was from 1966 to 1970 [5-2] and the government launched a nationwide family planning campaign as early as 1960 [5-3]. Therefore, population stymying policies occurred between 1966 and 1986 at least but SGPolCom has chosen to restrict the period to between 1970 and 1978.

    In its parallel universe, SGPolCom claimed to have eliminated those years of population disincentives by shifting them 8 years to the right. But shifting those years to the right doesn’t eliminate those years but merely delays their occurrence. It’s like trying to eliminate World War 2 by shifting it 8 years to the right or trying to eliminate the stock market crash by shifting it 8 years to the right. That merely delays but does not eliminate World War 2 or the stock market crash respectively. It’s not a valid approach.

    SGPolCom then compared the parallel universe it created with Korea and claimed that they are very close even though Korea did not undertake “stop at two” [4]. But Korea also undertook population control [6], [7]. So at best, SGPolCom merely showed that our delayed population control measures were as effective as Korea’s population control measures. Hong Kong and Taiwan have similarly employed birth control measures [8], [9], [10] so it is meaningless to compare Singapore with her East Asian dragon cousins since all have resorted to population control and one merely ends up comparing efficacies in birth control measures.

    Since the alternative world that SGPolCom created did not eliminate those years of population curtailment nor sufficiently account for the full duration of population curtailment, SGPolCom ended up not fully accounting for population curtailment and severely underestimating the effects of population stymying policies.

    SGPolCom claimed there were 118,886 recorded abortions in the 1970s [4]. The following table [11] shows the yearly abortions from 1970 to 1980 and they add up to 118,886. But 1980 is not even part of the 1970s. Why did SGPolCom include 1980 as part of the 1970s?

    Year Total reported resident abortions
    1970 1,970
    1971 3,407
    1972 3,806
    1973 5,252
    1974 7,175
    1975 12,873
    1976 15,496
    1977 16,443
    1978 17,246
    1979 16,999
    1980 18,219
    Total 118,886

    It is difficult to dissociate the effects of government policies from any natural population tendencies given that they happened concurrently [5-4]. But while we can’t directly measure the effects of government policies, those policies have been considered successful and that Singapore has been particularly noted for the stringency of our National Family Planning Program launched in 1966 [5-4]. The success of government policies in curbing population growth can be seen in its achievement of targets [5-2]:

    Targets Achievements
    First 5-Year Plan (1966-70) Reduce crude birth rate from 32 per 1,000 in 1964 to 20 by per 1,000 by 1970 Crude birth rate reduced to 22.1 per 1,000 by 1970
    Second 5-Year Plan (1971-75) Reduce crude birth rate from 22.1 per 1,000 in 1970 to 18 per 1,000 by 1975 Crude birth rate reduced to 17.8 per 1,000 by 1975

    The Singapore government, along with those of Hong Kong and South Korea, received high scores for their population control efforts [5-5]. In other words, our government played a pivotal role in successfully reducing our birth rate between 1966 and 1975. It is therefore not right to say that our birth rate reduction had little to do with our government.

    According to a study by Chen and Pang [5-6], the National Family Planning program was responsible for 75% of the estimated 250,000 births averted between 1967 and 1976. Using the same approach [12], we find that an additional 934,420 Singaporeans would have been added to our population if not for the National Family Planning program.

    Year Total averted births × 0.75 Half of total averted (represent females) TFR 27 years later Children born to unborn women Total averted births and their children Cumulative
    1966 22,808 11,404 1.74 19,843 42,650 42,650
    1967 23,201 11,601 1.71 19,837 43,038 85,688
    1968 26,504 13,252 1.67 22,130 48,634 134,322
    1969 26,732 13,366 1.66 22,188 48,920 183,242
    1970 21,386 10,693 1.61 17,216 38,602 221,844
    1971 18,845 9,422 1.48 13,945 32,789 254,634
    1972 20,746 10,373 1.47 15,248 35,994 290,628
    1973 25,269 12,635 1.6 20,215 45,484 336,112
    1974 26,276 13,138 1.41 18,524 44,800 380,912
    1975 29,635 14,817 1.37 20,300 49,935 430,846
    1976 32,916 16,458 1.27 20,902 53,818 484,664
    1977 30,141 15,071 1.26 18,989 49,130 533,794
    1978 30,169 15,084 1.26 19,006 49,175 582,969
    1979 29,646 14,823 1.28 18,973 48,619 631,588
    1980 30,130 15,065 1.29 19,434 49,563 681,152
    1981 30,167 15,083 1.28 19,307 49,473 730,625
    1982 30,200 15,100 1.22 18,422 48,621 779,246
    1983 29,151 14,576 1.15 16,762 45,913 825,159
    1984 30,343 15,171 1.2 18,206 48,548 873,707
    1985 31,266 15,633 31,266 904,973
    1986 29,447 14,724 29,447 934,420

    Adding 934,420 to our current resident population of 3,789,300 would give us 4,723,720 residents, which is 91.1% of our current total population of 5,183,700. In other words, our population demands would have largely been satisfied if not for our government’s population stymying policies.

    The “Stop at two” and other population stymying policies definitely played a key and vital role in reducing our fertility rate to what it is today. Blaming the government for successfully achieving fertility reduction is therefore not wrong.

    Thank you

    Ng Kok Lim

    [1] A History of Singapore’s Population Control, 1947 ~ 2001, 12 Aug 2012, SGPolCom

    [2] The Effects of the Population ‘Disincentives’ policies, SGPolCom

    [3] Population ‘Disincentives’ Policies – a Factual Breakdown, SGPolCom

    [4] Stop Blaming the ‘STOP AT TWO’ Policy, SGPolCom

    [5] The global family planning revolution – three decades of population policies and programs, Chapter 13, Singapore: population policies and programs, Yap Mui Teng

    [5-1] page 202, Box 13.1

    [5-2] page 205, Table 13.1

    [5-3] page 203-204

    [5-4] page 201

    Given the simultaneity of events, directly measuring the contribution of the government’s population policies and programs, begun in the early stages of the country’s independence, is not possible, but those policies and programs have generally been considered successful. In particular, Singapore has been noted for the stringency of its National Family Planning Program.

    [5-5] page 430, Table 24.2

    [5-6] page 214

    [6] Expert group meeting on policy responses to population ageing and population decline, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Secretariat, New York, 16-18 Oct 2000, Policy responses to low fertility and population aging in Korea, Ik Ki Kim, page 4
    Korean government launched a full-scale national family planning program in 1962.

    [7] http://countrystudies.us/south-korea/33.htm
    The 1973 Maternal and Child Health Law legalized abortion. In 1983 the government began suspending medical insurance benefits for maternal care for pregnant women with three or more children. It also denied tax deductions for education expenses to parents with two or more children.

    [8] The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong http://www.famplan.org.hk/fpahk/en/template1.asp?style=template1.asp&content=about/history.asp
    The successfully launched “Two is Enough” campaign quickly became household word in the territory.

    [9] Population Control and Economic Development, Goran Ohlin, page 81-82
    The target of Taiwan’s family planning policy is to reduce the birth rate from 3 percent to 1.8 by 1970, and it was estimated that this would reuqire the insertion of 600,000 loops in the period 1965-1969

    [10] Sociology, Jon M. Shepard, page 490
    Family planning has worked in Taiwan, where by the turn of the twenty-first century, the birth rate declined below replacement level.

    [11] Historical abortion statistics Singapore, Wm. Robert Johnston, http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/ab-singapore.html last updated 11 Mar 2012

    [12] Total births averted is found by adding new cases of family planning acceptors, female and male sterilisations and abortions found in Table 13.3 on page 212 of Dr Yap Mui Teng’s thesis [5]. Using the same approach as Chen and Pang [5-6], number of births averted is multiplied by a factor of 0.75. Next, it is assumed that half of these averted births would have been females as SGPolCom has done. Next, it is assumed that these females would have given birth 27 years later compared to 30 years later assumed by SGPolCom. The TFR 27 years later is used to calculate the number of children these averted females would have given birth to in their lifetimes. The averted births and their children would have given us an additional 934,420 people.

    If we include indirect government involvement between 1949 and 1965 in funding the Family Planning Association of Singapore, the predecessor to the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board, the number of averted births would be even more.

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