Channel NewsAsia
Updated: 02/14/2013 03:40 | By Channel NewsAsia

Fertility rate slightly below 2.1 optimal for S’pore: expert

Fertility rate slightly below 2.1 optimal for S’pore: expert

Fertility rate slightly below 2.1 optimal for S’pore: expert

SINGAPORE: A sociologist is suggesting that a total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.7, somewhat lower than the replacement level of 2.1 may be more desirable for Singapore.

But a certain level of immigration will still be needed even if the fertility rate is 1.7.

According to the founding director at the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital, Professor Wolfgang Lutz,"2.1 is often taken as a benchmark, but it doesn’t really deserve the status. It’s a highly artificial number."

The expert on family demography, fertility analysis and population projection, explained that a 2.1TFR comes out of a specific demographic model under very long—term conditions, in the absence of changes to mortality, and no migration.

The figure also doesn’t take into account education levels.

With better education, the younger generation is expected to be more productive, pointed out Professor Lutz.

"So once you factor this in, then actually a fertility around 1.7 may be best. Because then you have somewhat fewer children, but you can invest more per child and that will more than compensate for the smaller size of the cohort."

His hypothesis is premised as well on a certain level of immigration, something which he conceded required a "cautionary attitude" to ensure migrants are actively integrated and there is harmony between the migrant and native population.

"As long as this is assured, I think immigration is a good thing and can contribute to the well—being of the migrant and native population," he said.

Professor Lutz did not, however, elaborate on what level of immigration was needed.

The government recently released a White Paper addressing the country’s low birth rate and ageing population — the concern is that there’ll be fewer working adults supporting every elderly person in the future.

But the call at a seminar organised by the Department of Sociology of the National University of Singapore, is a need to rethink and adjust the old—age dependency ratio.

The dependency ratio is calculated by taking the number of people aged 65 years and older, divided by the number of working age adults.

Professor Lutz noted that the old age dependency ratio, as it is currently measured, only considers age, without taking into account education or productivity levels.

So, another factor which could make a TFR of 1.7 viable, Professor Lutz said is that seniors in the future will be less dependent than the retirees now given that they are more educated — which means better jobs — and will be in better health due to advancements in medical technology.

And with life expectancy improving, they can also retire later, which will mitigate the problem of a shrinking workforce, he said.

— CNA/TODAY/ck/sf

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