Encouraging and sustaining marriage in Singapore

Disclaimer: I admire Singapore and follow events there fairly closely. But not being Singaporean, any observations below are my opinions only and may be challenged by those with a better or closer knowledge of my favourite Asian country.

Singapore has a low birthrate at the moment, and a current average marriage age that is relatively high. The Singapore government, always thinking of the future (but often getting it wrong) is going to promote new and innovative ways of getting Singaporeans to marry and stay married.

When HWMBO was growing up in Singapore, there was a government-sponsored social club into which all young Singaporeans were enrolled, designed to urge them to pair up and eventually get married. This club was the object of much derision among many young Singaporeans and I believe it has gone out of existence (but may be wrong).

As for a history of misplaced Singaporean futureology, one might point to Lee Kwan Yew’s fear of overpopulation on the relatively small island of Singapore which led to a policy of encouraging one child only several decades ago. This has been replaced by a policy of encouraging Singaporeans to marry early and breed often, since the island nation has a shortage of native talent for its industrial and financial organisations. This has led to a surge in immigration, both temporary and permanent, and this surge has also produced discontent in the average native Singaporean.

This discontent at rising immigration is not confined to Singapore, of course, but the Singaporean version has some fascinating characteristics. Many immigrants to Singapore are from the People’s Republic of China, and some native Singaporean Chinese feel threatened by this influx of Chinese (forgetting, like some modern Irish Americans, that they themselves are the children or grandchildren of immigrants) and point out how “common” the immigrants are. A reluctance on the part of the immigrants to learn English (Singapore’s lingua franca) is also a source of irritation. Overcrowding on the MRT (Singapore’s state of the art rapid transit system) is becoming a great source of discontent.

I recall a recent case where a family in Singapore that often cooked its native dishes (some kind of pungent curry) was irritating a neighbour, who took them to court to force them to tone down their cooking. I recall people in America complaining about the smell of cabbage boiling in Irish households, or the garlic that infused the cooking of Italian families.

The government’s encouraging Chinese Singaporeans to speak Mandarin Chinese only has raised a generation of Singaporeans who cannot communicate with their grandparents except through their parents, since the younger people cannot speak the grandparent’s dialect (Hakka, Hokkien, Cantonese, for example) and the grandparent never learned Mandarin or English. So much for honouring one’s ancestors and transmitting cultural values down through the generations.

I suspect that this program will not have much effect on the tendency of Singaporeans to marry late and divorce frequently. Making it easier to conduct an integrated and family-friendly life by reducing hours spent at work would probably be more fruitful in this area. I don’t see that happening soon.

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