A Swedeish Way To Boost Singapore’s Birth Rate

Minister
Mentor Lee Kuan Yew hinted at a dialogue on Wednesday that Singapore is
reviewing its procreation policies and could be looking to the Swedish model. Its
measures range from having affordable childcare to paid paternity leave and
even child ‘allowances’.
    As Sweden‘s Ambassador to Singapore Per Ahlberger
told The Straits Times yesterday: ‘Sweden was the first country in the
world to introduce parental leave in 1974.’
    This is
gender-neutral leave. But of the 13-month paid leave, at least 60 days must be
taken by fathers.
    This has
had the dual effect of boosting the employment rate of women in the country as
well as its birth rates, added Mr Ahlberger.
    According
to a 2007 survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development,
81 per cent of women aged 25 to 54 are employed.
    Sweden‘s fertility rate also went up from
1.6 children per woman in 1978 to 1.88 last year.
    While this
is below the 2.1 replacement rate for a population to maintain its current size
in the long term, it is far above Singapore‘s
rate of 1.29 last year, and is among the highest in Western
Europe
.
    Ms
Hylander, a mother of two, listed measures back home to encourage Swedes to
heed the stork.
    First, all
parents get 13 months of leave, and continue to receive 80 per cent of their
pay – with the cost borne by both the state and employers. On top of this, they
can opt for another three months, though they will get just $40 a day during
this time.
    Second,
they get tiered child allowances – from 105 euros (S$225) a month for the first
child, to 190 euros for the fourth child.
    Third,
companies are legally bound to hire their employees – both mothers and fathers
– on a part-time basis if they wish, up to the time their child is eight years
old.
    Fourth,
childcare is ‘very affordable’, capped at $30 a month. In contrast, childcare
costs here average $670 a month.
    But, of
course, there are limitations to the Swedish way.
    A study by
the Institute for Futures Studies in Sweden said that the fertility rate
is ‘highly fluctuating’. The lion’s share – over 80 per cent – of parental
leave is still taken by mothers, ‘making it difficult for women to compete on
equal terms with men in the labour market’.
    But for
Swedes such as Ms Hylander, the measures are already ‘very good’.
    Meanwhile, Singapore is also taking note, with a delegation
having recently visited Sweden
to follow the day-to-day activities of a typical family at home and at the
kindergarten, said Mr Ahlberger.
    ‘It has
obviously taken Sweden
some time to reach these figures and each society must find its own solutions,’
he said.
    “Having
said that, I personally believe that one can find inspiration and good examples
in the Swedish model, simply because we have almost 35 years of experience, and
that the model in my opinion has worked for us.’

 

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