How do young Singaporeans view marriage and parenthood?
What are some of the challenges and obstacles to marriage/parenthood that local singles/couples are facing?
Are there any enhancements that the government can provide to the existing marriage and parenthood package to entice young couples?
Over the Christmas and New Year holidays, I had a massive flood of marriage proposal posts and congratulatory comments on my Facebook feed.
My friends and I egged the lucky gals into sharing the exciting details with us: how he proposed, pictures of the wedding ring, and when the big day will be.
This sparked off an interesting discussion on the findings of a recently released study by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD).
Titled Marriage and Parenthood, the study indicates that 83% respondents who are single want to get married, while 84% of married respondents intend to have two or more children.
Reactions were mixed within my group of close friends (one engaged, two attached, and the rest single and looking): “I definitely fall into the 83% who are single and want to get married,” one lamented. Another quickly chimed in, “You need to put yourself out there more! But then again, got time to find boyfriend also no time to date, no money to get married, pay for a flat and procreate L”.
Her comment definitely echoes widely-held sentiments, some of which were discussed in this article.
With an enhanced marriage and parenthood package expected to be released this month (the previous package was provided back in 2008), I thought it would be interesting to share my personal wish list for some enhancements that would encourage me (and hopefully other adults of marriageable age!) to tie the knot and embrace parenthood:
More targeted financial assistance for first-time couples applying for flats
A staggering 61% of respondents in the study cited “saving money for housing” as a reason for not having immediate plans to register their marriage. Even those of my friends who have successfully balloted for a BTO because they want to get married soon gripe about how they have to rely on their parents or take up loans to pay the 10% down payment. I’ve got to admit that the thought of being debt-ridden for someone my age is pretty daunting and a very huge commitment! Maybe HDB can look at increasing its direct financial subsidies specifically for first-time couples to relieve their financial burden.
Also, it is worth considering the extension of the CPF Housing Grant Scheme to cover the purchase of a resale HDB flat, regardless of whether the couple stays near/with their parents. This may help to reduce the constraints faced by some couples looking for a unit in mature estates (and hence required to pay a premium due to the rising prices) in order to be located near their parents to enjoy the grant.
Better work-life balance
Providing benefits like baby bonuses and subsidies for childcare services are great, but may not be viable long-term solutions in my opinion. I feel that the joy of parenthood comes from spending time with your kids, but the lack of a work-life balance is deterring some newlyweds from going down that route. While some have the luxury of quitting their jobs to be a stay-at-home parent, most are less willing to give up their dual-income status. I look at my niece, who spends most of her day with my mother before going home asleep in my sister’s arms; they hardly get any quality time together as a family!
So, besides the Work-Life Works! Fund, perhaps the government can look at encouraging organisations to support greater flexibility in work arrangements – allow mothers to adopt a four-day work week, or work-from-home up to two days per week etc. – by providing subsidies to offset any cost that could potentially be incurred by employers.
Flexible parental leave
The maternity leave in Singapore currently stands at 16 weeks, but there are talks around increasing this to six months of paid leave, with the option of an additional six months of unpaid leave. In fact, some have praised “maternity leave-heaven” countries like Sweden, which offers parents 480 days of paid leave per child and can be split equally between both parents. While it may not be feasible for Singapore to match the attractiveness of its parental leave package in terms of the number of leave days, I think it would be worthwhile to introduce an element of flexibility into our existing policy while making paternity leave mandatory (we currently have no enforced requirement, although there are such arrangements practiced by some companies).
For example, the additional eight weeks of leave (on top of the 16 weeks maternity leave) can be spilt in any proportion as agreed between parents, to be used anytime up to when the child is three years old. This is a better reflection of the responsibility required from both parents (instead of just the mother) in raising a child, in addition to encouraging parents to spend more time at home with their kids during their early years.
One thing’s for sure – we definitely won’t be using a rap to encourage more baby-making!