Stop-at-two successful but not responsible?

I refer to the 6 Aug 2013 Straits Times report of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s views extracted from his new book “One man’s view of the Word”.

Mr Lee claimed that he would introduce a baby bonus equal to two years of the average Singaporean’s salary to prove that super-sized monetary incentives only have a marginal effect on fertility rates.

Our average monthly earnings per employee were $4,433 per month in 2012 (Singstats) or $106,392 over two years. According to another Straits Times report [2], the cost of raising a child in a two-children-family is $500,000 per child. The supposedly ‘super-sized’ monetary incentive Mr Lee proposed is only about a fifth of what it takes to raise a child, is it any wonder only a marginal effect should be expected? Such an experiment would prove nothing other than the wide disconnect between what the elites consider to be super-sized generous and what the ground experiences to be the cost of raising a child.

Mr Lee claimed that low birth rates are due to transformed lifestyles and mindsets that the government is powerless against. But the governments of France and Scandinavia have successfully overcome low birth rates [3] despite transformed lifestyles and mindsets. So at best, Mr Lee can only say that some governments are powerless against low birth rates. He cannot deny that other governments have been more powerful against low birth rates.

Mr Lee tried to absolve responsibility by claiming it absurd to blame the lowering of fertility rates on his “Stop at Two” campaign in the 1970s. He instead blamed falling fertility rates to the global phenomenon of women’s emancipation and participation in the workplace.

The following graph obtained from an NUS study [4], shows that much of our fall in total fertility rate since 1970 occurred squarely within the ‘Stop at Two’ policy era. So if Mr Lee thinks that his ‘Stop at Two’ policy didn’t cause low fertility rate today, he must accept that it was a totally useless policy that did nothing more than what would have occurred naturally anyway without his policy.


But that’s not how another NUS academic sees it. Instead, she sees our birth control policies and programs as successful [5] and that we very much achieved our birth rate targets in each five-year plan [5].

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

Many authors also disagree with Mr Lee [6] and are of the opinion that our rapid fall in birth rate can be attributed to the success of the “Stop at Two” and other birth control policies and campaigns. So if Mr Lee refuses to accept responsibility, we will end up with the strange situation where ‘Stop at Two’ and other birth control plans and campaigns had been successful but had not been responsible for reducing our fertility rate.

The following table shows the average 2000-2011 total fertility rate (TFR) for all nations with at least 40% women employment between 2000 and 2010 and with at least 90% girl-to-boy ratio in primary and secondary education [7]. These are the nations that supposedly experienced what Mr Lee called the global phenomenon of women’s emancipation and participation in the workplace. Out of these 79 countries, Singapore has the 4th lowest TFR. Global emancipation and employment of women doesn’t explain why Singapore is 4th from the bottom in total fertility rate [8].

Country Name TFR 2000-2011 Share of women in employment 2000-2010 Ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary education
Macao SAR, China 0.95 49.2 99.8
Hong Kong SAR, China 1.01 47.4 99.6
Korea, Rep. 1.21 41.6 99.3
Singapore 1.27 44.4 #DIV/0!
Ukraine 1.28 54.5 98.8
Slovak Republic 1.29 48.2 100.5
Latvia 1.30 53.1 99.2
Hungary 1.30 48.6 99.0
Romania 1.30 45.9 99.8
Poland 1.30 47.1 98.5
Czech Republic 1.32 46.5 100.6
Belarus 1.32 56.1 97.8
Japan 1.34 41.3 100.2
Spain 1.34 42.6 102.3
Italy 1.34 42.3 98.6
Slovenia 1.36 47.6 99.9
Germany 1.36 46.6 98.1
Bulgaria 1.36 51.3 97.2
Greece 1.37 41.2 100.0
Russian Federation 1.38 50.8 98.7
Lithuania 1.39 53.3 99.0
Austria 1.40 46.1 96.7
Portugal 1.40 47.3 100.9
Croatia 1.41 46.4 101.9
Switzerland 1.45 47.0 97.3
Serbia 1.47 43.6 101.7
Liechtenstein 1.49 40.2 91.4
Moldova 1.50 54.1 101.8
Estonia 1.50 52.3 100.2
Macedonia, FYR 1.51 42.5 98.8
Barbados 1.53 50.7 107.2
Cyprus 1.55 48.0 100.7
Cuba 1.55 43.3 98.6
Georgia 1.58 48.3 98.3
Canada 1.58 49.4 99.0
Trinidad and Tobago 1.63 41.8 102.1
Luxembourg 1.63 42.9 102.6
Thailand 1.64 44.8 101.5
Antigua and Barbuda 1.70 50.6 95.9
Armenia 1.72 42.6 102.6
Montenegro 1.73 44.5 101.2
Netherlands 1.74 46.2 97.9
Bermuda 1.76 49.0 107.7
Belgium 1.76 45.2 100.9
Aruba 1.77 48.5 97.9
Puerto Rico 1.78 41.5 103.8
Sweden 1.79 50.4 104.2
Denmark 1.80 49.0 101.8
Finland 1.80 50.8 103.2
United Kingdom 1.81 46.3 101.2
Australia 1.83 46.9 98.5
Norway 1.87 49.0 100.3
Dominica 1.90 43.8 103.5
Bahamas, The 1.91 49.8 100.4
Azerbaijan 1.92 45.5 99.0
France 1.96 48.6 99.8
Ireland 1.98 48.3 102.8
United States 2.03 47.6 100.3
New Zealand 2.04 50.2 103.1
St. Lucia 2.04 47.7 101.3
Brazil 2.06 41.2 102.9
Uruguay 2.06 46.6 104.3
Iceland 2.07 51.6 101.7
Costa Rica 2.07 40.6 101.7
Kazakhstan 2.29 49.2 99.3
Argentina 2.30 44.6 103.1
Mongolia 2.32 50.8 106.4
Colombia 2.44 47.9 103.8
Jamaica 2.45 45.9 99.9
El Salvador 2.48 48.5 98.3
Panama 2.61 43.0 100.9
Venezuela, RB 2.64 41.4 103.0
South Africa 2.65 42.2 99.9
Kyrgyz Republic 2.69 49.0 99.7
Israel 2.93 49.0 100.2
Botswana 3.02 41.9 100.9
Philippines 3.45 41.5 102.5
Honduras 3.49 41.7 106.7
Namibia 3.57 41.6 104.0

Mr Lee claimed that Japan is strolling into mediocrity because of its unwillingness to accept immigrants like Singapore has. But Japan’s average fertility of 1.34 over the last 11 years is higher than South Korea’s average fertility of 1.21 over the last 11 years. Yet higher fertility Japan is considered strolling into mediocrity but not lower fertility South Korea even though both societies are relatively homogenous. The recent South Korean success through largely indigenous effort shows that success need not depend on immigration but can count instead on indigenous effort or talent.

Mr Lee claimed that if he were a young Japanese who could speak English, he would probably emigrate. Mr Lee should be reminded of a recent survey which showed more than half of Singaporeans want to migrate if given a choice [9]. Mr Lee is therefore mistaken if he thinks that aggressive immigration policies have given Singapore the edge over Japan. The following table shows that while Japan’s stock of emigrants has decreased by 17.9% over the last five years; that of Singapore’s has increased by 29.2% over the same period [10]. So it is not the Japanese but Singaporeans who has greater desire for emigration.

Economy 2005 stock of emigrants 2010 stock of emigrants Percentage change
Japan 940,028 771,400 -17.9%
Singapore 230,007 297,200 29.2%

[1] Straits Times, Money won’t solve low birth rate problem: Mr Lee, 6 Aug 2013

IF FORMER prime minister Lee Kuan Yew were in charge of Singapore today, he would introduce a baby bonus equal to two years of the average Singaporean’s salary.
This is not to boost the country’s abysmal total fertility rate of 1.2. Rather, Mr Lee would do it to “prove that super-sized monetary incentives would only have a marginal effect on fertility rates”.
Writing in his new book, One Man’s View Of The World, Mr Lee makes clear he would offer this huge baby bonus for at least a year.
The experiment will “prove beyond any doubt that our low birth rates have nothing to do with economic or financial factors, such as high cost of living or lack of government help for parents”, he says.
Instead, it is due to transformed lifestyles and mindsets which the Government is relatively powerless against, he argues in the 400-page book that is due to be launched today.
Declining fertility is the biggest threat to Singapore’s survival, he says.
But, Mr Lee adds: “I cannot solve the problem, and I have given up. I have given the job to another generation of leaders. Hopefully, they or their successors will eventually find a way out.”
In a chapter on Singapore, he also says the suggestion that the “Stop at Two” population campaign of the 1970s played a part in bringing fertility rates down is “absurd”.
Rather, falling fertility is a global phenomenon due primarily to women’s emancipation and participation in the workplace, he says.
The chapter on Singapore is one of 11 in the new book, which focuses largely on foreign affairs.
Mr Lee covers regions including the Middle East and superpowers such as the United States and China, as well as issues like the future of the global economy and climate change.
He also writes candidly about his past encounters with world leaders and impressions of countries, but the bulk of the book looks forwards as he sizes up these countries’ strengths, weaknesses and chances of success.
In the Singapore chapter, Mr Lee also reflects on the historic 2011 General Election, young Singaporeans’ desire for a two-party system, and Workers’ Party MP Chen Show Mao.
He returns to the issue of low fertility often, pointing to it as the reason Japan, a country he once considered “peerless”, is now on what he calls a “stroll into mediocrity”.
The demographic changes in Singapore and Japan are similar, he notes; the difference lies in the unwillingness of the Japanese to “shade (the) problem with immigrants” like Singapore has done.
It is this intransigence about accepting foreigners and the deeply ingrained idea that the Japanese race must be kept “pure” that makes their continued decline inevitable, he says.
“If I were a young Japanese and I could speak English, I would probably choose to emigrate,” he concludes bluntly.
Mr Lee’s new book was written with the research and editorial assistance of a team of Straits Times journalists. They are managing editor Han Fook Kwang, deputy editor Zuraidah Ibrahim, Opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong and political reporter Elgin Toh.
Also in the team was a civil servant seconded to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Mr Shashi Jayakumar.
Mr Lee is due to launch the book officially today at the Istana. About 20,000 copies will be on sale at $39.90 (including GST) at leading bookstores from 5pm today.

[2] Straits Times, The $900,000 Singapore child, 15 Feb 2013

My estimate is about $600,000 in real dollars per child for a one-child family, and about $500,000 per child for a two-child family to raise a child.

[3] Straits Times, Succeeding in Europe, 26 Jan 2013

Europe is providing the world with a model of success in one area: how to reverse declining birth rates. The Scandinavian countries paved the way, turning around their total fertility rate (TFR) in the 1980s from a low point of 1.5. Since then, they have maintained TFRs that hover just below the replacement rate of 2.1. In the last decade, France bucked the trend of other developed countries in continental Europe and steadily raised its TFR from 1.6 to about 2 now. Europe’s latest success story is the small northern European nation of Estonia. After its TFR fell to a catastrophic 1.2 in 2004, a series of bold measures lifted it to about 1.6 in 2010.

• Fertility and the Family: An Overview of Pro-natalist Population Policies in Singapore
Asian Meta Centre for Population and Sustainable Development Analysis, Asia Research Institute, NUS
Theresa Wong, Brenda S.A. Yeoh
Page 9

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

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.

Page 205, Table 13.1

• Singapore Infopedia – 20 Jul 1972: Launch of Family Planning Publicity Campaign
The population control efforts were such a resounding success, that by the late 1980s, Singapore’s falling birth rate became a cause for concern (Wong & Yeoh, 2003, pp. 11-12).

• Asia-Pacific Population Journal
United Nations, United Nations Publications, United Nations Staff
Page 7
The “Stop at Two” family planning policy instituted in Singapore resulted in the total fertility rate dropping from an average of 6 children per woman in the 1950s to below replacement fertility by 1975 (Fawcett and Khoo, 1980).

• Los Angeles Times, ‘Stop at 2’ Campaign Works Too Well; Singapore Urges New Baby Boom, 21 Jun 1987
SINGAPORE — A lengthy campaign to persuade parents in Singapore to “stop at two” children has worked too well, and government officials are now offering a package of financial incentives in an attempt to spark a baby boom.

• New “Temples” of India: Singapore and India Collaboration in Information Technology Parks
Faizal Bin Yahya
Page 3
Ironically, at the root of Singapore’s graying population and problem of low fertility rates, was its success at curbing population growth in the early years of its independence from Malaysia. THe argument was put forward by scholars like Garry Rodan, who commented on Singapore’s ‘stop at two’ population control policy and subsequent emphasis on meritocracy (Rodan, 1989).

• Preparing for an Aging World: The Case for Cross-National Research
Panel on a Research Agenda and New Data for an Aging World, Committee on Population, Committee on National Statistics, National Research Council
Page 39
Singapore, once a prime advocate of fertility reduction, achieved such success in thia arena that the declining birth rate became a cause for political and economic conern. Consequently, Singapore’s “Stop at 2” (children) policy was modified in 1987 …

• God Or Allah, Truth Or Bull?
Richard Woo
Page 211
In Singapore a “stop-at-two” policy was introduced in 1969 to curb a rapidly expanding population; however, this policy seems to have backfired, and with an admisson of error in the context of a declining birth rate, with ill effects for the economy, the government has begun encouraging people to produce more children and keeping an open-arms policy for foreigners to settle in Singapore.

• Indonesia, Malaysia & Singapore Handbook
Page 364
The policy proved to be so successful, however, that declining fertility rates forced a policy U-turn in the mid-1980s … Malay population was growing faster than the Chinese population, the government scrapped the old slogan “Stop at Two” …

• The Binding Tie: Chinese Intergenerational Relations in Modern Singapore
Kristina Göransson
Page 120
In the 1960s and 1970s the Singapore government successfully managed to reign in the high birthrate by promoting the two-child family. But the slow-down was asymmetrical, insofar as the birthrate decreased significantly among educated Chinese women, while it remained high among other groups … A graduates’ matchmaking agency, the Social Development Unit, was set up to facilitate the Graduate Mothers’ Priority Scheme to speed up reproduction among educated women.

• Gender and Development
Janet Momsen
Page 59
The anti-natalist ‘stop at tow’ policy orchestrated by the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board, set up in 1966, was government policy from the early 1970s until 1987. Higher income tax relief was given for the first two children in a family, with no relief for the fourth and subsequent children. Legal sterilization and aboriton were introduced in 1969, maternity leave was restricted to only two children and priority in school placements was lost after two children. The government also manipulated housing policies in favour of smaller families, a very effective carrot in a country where 85 per cent of the population now live in a modern housing provided by the state of Housing Development Board (Graham 1995). The total fertility rate fell to a low of 1.42 in 1986, since when it has fluctuated but remained below replacement level being 1.3 in 2008.

[7] World Bank data
Singapore’s ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary education data not available in World Bank but assumed to be balanced and in line with global women’s emancipation.

[8] What is interesting to note is that East Asian nations occupy the four bottommost positions in TFR. While it is tempting to say that low birth rate is cultural by nature, one must not forget that nearly all East Asian societies practiced birth control:

• 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.
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.

• The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong
The successfully launched “Two is Enough” campaign quickly became household word in the territory.

• 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

• 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.

[9] The New Paper, More than half of S’poreans would migrate if given a choice: Survey, 9 Oct 2012

[10] World Bank Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011 and 2008


3 Responses to “Stop-at-two successful but not responsible?”

  1. dotseng Says:

    Hard hitting, thought provoking and crisp. Thank you. Its rare to read something like this in either the MSM or blogoshpere. Please continue to blog.

    Your loyal reader.

    Darkness 2013

  2. ;Annonymous Says:

    Well researched, as usual. Congratulations. To his dying day LKY will not admit his mistakes, for which the country is paying a heavy price.

  3. Boston University Apartments Says:

    I like the valuable information you provide in your articles.
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