Web Stories Thursday, February 22

FORGET THE ‘GOOD LIFE’, AIM FOR ‘GOOD ENOUGH’

One step towards making Singapore a more family-friendly place is to redefine what success means, experts said.

Instead of pursuing the “good life”, young Singaporeans may need to aim for a “good enough” life, which would allow them to be less bound by work and economic aspirations, said NUS’ Assoc Prof Tan.

“The desired outcomes would be having a sound mind, healthy body, happy family life, and a manageable work life. I believe that a ‘good enough’ life would paradoxically also enable one to be productive, through working smart, and creative,” he added.

Singaporeans also need to be less demanding on themselves as parents, experts said.

Dr Tan Poh Lin, a senior research fellow at IPS, said: “If we have a pyramid-shaped social hierarchy, with a relatively small class of individuals at the top who go through a very selective process for scarce elite positions in which they are heavily rewarded, and a large bottom class of individuals who are socially and economically less well off and secure, then no matter what birth incentives you put in place, parents will always have a strong incentive to choose quality over quantity.”

Parents may choose to have just one child, but ensure that he or she is “given all the advantages of life”, she added.

“In other words, the stakes at play in our educational, labour market and social systems determine how competitive parents will need to be.”

To help Singaporeans overcome such a mindset, having more room for risk-taking and recovery from failure, especially in the early stages of life where parents are held primarily responsible for their children’s success, could be key, said Dr Tan.

“If going to the right primary school means that one has a much better chance at receiving an elite secondary and tertiary education, and conversely if being identified as weak in some academic domains means that these chances are much lower, then parents have no choice but to give it their all,” he said.

Instead of rewarding outcomes based on a “unidimensional metric”, society could focus on rewarding effort to allow individuals room for exploration of their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, which can result in better job matches, prevent worker burnout and improve mental well-being, he added.

“For example, instead of ranking students narrowly on how their assignments turned out, rewards could be based on the extent to which they went the extra mile on their own, and what they have learned in the process.”

Of course, societal change cannot happen through individual effort alone. Employers and policymakers have to help create a more pro-family culture that enables Singaporeans to prioritise family life over work life if that is what they want, said Assoc Prof Tan from NUS.

This goes beyond a company’s human resource policies to encompass shifts in employers’ formal, informal, or unspoken expectations, he added.

“Would employers or bosses be willing to set more reasonable key performance indicators (KPIs), thereby allowing employees to have more family time, without having to worry about work?” he asked.

“The fact is, with tough KPIs, one could be on leave or on family holiday and still be thinking about work, which means being physically present, but mentally absent.”

Meanwhile, the Government could offer support by looking at ways to improve the quality of life for middle class families, said Associate Professor Daniel Goh, a sociologist at NUS.

Noting that poverty actually allows for a greater TFR because families have more babies as an insurance against future poverty, Assoc Prof Goh added that the considerations for middle class families are different. 

“As you go more and more middle class, you tend not to have babies because you have other aspirations and you start to balance things, you start to consider the costs of having a baby,” he said. 

So, providing more childcare centres, affordable housing and education could nudge couples to have children by helping them realise that the cost of having a child in an already-good environment is low, and their quality of life would not be compromised as a result of having kids, said Assoc Prof Goh.

He also highlighted the importance of speaking with young women specifically to understand their concerns about motherhood.

“Find out the diversity of perspectives and what are their considerations (around whether to have kids or not), and then start to design policies to mitigate the decline of TFR along those lines,” he added.

Ms Lee — who echoed the thoughts of experts, that there is no point in trying to change the minds of couples who do not want to have children — said: “I think it is good to give as much support as possible to those who want to have more children, especially since it is so challenging in this day and age. Policies should target those who want children but are hindered by limited resources.

“As for those like me who prefer to be Dink, I believe it should be recognised as a valid way of life and we still contribute to society in our own ways.”

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