year of the tiger

Many people in Asian countries believe Tiger babies could be vicious and bring harm to relatives.

The Year of the Tiger may be the year of empty nurseries in Asia. Nations in Asia are witnessing record low birthrates that experts warn will eventually leave the region without the workers needed to bolster the economy and pay for social benefits.


And 2010 may be the worst year yet because children born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Tiger are believed to be fierce and bring harm to their families.

The problem is considered so dire that Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged couples to be fruitful and not to “cling on to superstitions against children born in the Year of the Tiger.”

The government’s concern for this island nation of 5 million people is that Singapore will cease to be competitive against other Asian nations if it fails to replenish its workforce.

Singapore is among several Asian nations, such as Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, that have among the lowest birthrates in the world. Fewer children means fewer laborers and the risk that the elderly may eventually outnumber workers Singapore depends on to power the economy and pay for government pensions and services.

Singapore has been among the most aggressive nations in trying to encourage families to have kids. It sponsors speed-dating events and love cruises to encourage marriage that hopefully leads to children. It pays bonuses to parents who give birth, provides marriage counseling and in partnership with the private sector helps women balance kids and careers.


These efforts may have only a limited effect. Having children is “not a national service” but a highly personal decision that hinges upon a couple’s ability to afford a family and the woman’s career prospects, says Joelle Fiore, 33, who gave birth to her first child, Oliver, less than a year ago.

Frances White, a lawyer with two children, Jacob, 6, and Alex, 4, says “the government is right to worry about future generations. But if the things they put in place are too robotic, they won’t work.”

In recent years, more Singaporeans have stayed single, and those who marry have fewer kids.

Singapore’s total fertility rate — the average number of children born per woman — reached 1.28 in 2008, near an all-time low and well short of the 2.1 births per woman needed just to replace the current population.

History shows that Tiger years only make things worse. In previous Tiger years, such as 1998 and 1986, the number of births in Singapore dipped by as much as 10%. Experts say if women delay having children this year, they might end up having smaller families.

“In a woman with 10 years of reproductive life span, if she postpones having kids one year, there’s no real significance,” says Paul Cheung, director of the United Nations Statistics Division. “But if a woman only has five years, and you lose one year, then it makes a difference statistically.”

The government’s dating service tries to create awareness about “the importance of marriage and family and the need to start early,” according to its website. Recent events include belly dancing and a self-help seminar called “How I Go From Single, Depressed, Lonely into Being Happy, Fulfilled & Attached.”

Chong Lee, an information technology manager, say he’s open to marriage and children — with the right person. Lee, 40, says many Singaporean women are too busy with their jobs to pursue a long-term relationship.

Asian women want men who are more successful and educated than they are, but that’s not easy as the women move up in their careers, says Violet Lim, co-founder of Lunch Actually, a dating service for professionals.

Other cultural issues make it hard to find a mate.

“People don’t go to bars, and some parents even have curfews for the girls who are 24 to 25 years old,” Cheung says.

Another challenge is how to urge women to marry and have kids but convince them to get back into the workforce before too long. “When you’re a little nation state without any other resource except labor, you need everyone to stay economically active,” says Paulin Tay Straughan, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore.

Have a family, back to work

Halimah Yacob, deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, a network of trade unions, has partnered with the government on an initiative that encourages employers to offer part-time and flexible work schedules so women can work after having kids.

“Women have aspirations. We need to help them see they can have a family and go back to work,” she says.

Through the back-to-work program, Catherine Lee, 37, secured an administrative position with Educare, an education company, after having her second child. “It is stressful, of course, balancing work and personal life,” Lee says. “But I consider myself lucky to get a part-time position.”

Corinna Lim, executive director of AWARE, which advocates for gender equality, says that if men became more involved in child-care duties and housework, women might be willing to have more children. Her group pushes for paternity leave, more child care centers and flexible working hours for women.

“Women can choose to be a supermom, or they can choose to not have kids and focus on their career,” Lim says. “There is no work-life balance.”

Via USA Today