‘Unless we have more babies, we need to accept immigrants’

Singapore’s downward trend of population growth is damaging to its economy, said former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew on Friday.

Speaking at a Tanjong Pagar group representation constituency Chinese New Year dinner, Lee said that given our almost record-low birth rate of 1.2 from last year, Singapore will need to depend on immigrants to “make up our numbers”, reported The Straits Times (ST).

He also shared the breakdown — 1.08 for Chinese, 1.09 for Indians and 1.64 for Malays — with 2.1 as the benchmark replacement rate, reported TODAY.

“In other words the population of Chinese Singaporeans in the next generation, 18 to 20 years, will half,” he was quoted by the paper as saying as well.

Comparing the number of babies born in Singapore when he was prime minister in 1959 (more than 62,000) and the number of babies born in 2011 (about 36,000), Lee commented that the task of increasing the nation’s population is its “biggest challenge”.

He added that having babies may be a personal matter, but has “considerable consequences” for Singapore, reported ST.

He noted how trends of women being more highly educated and the movement toward greater gender equality at the workplace have contributed to the phenomenon of a declining birth rate, adding that currently, some 44.2 per cent of men and 31 per cent of women between the ages of 30 and 34 are still single.

The broadsheet also reported that Lee compared Singapore’s economy to that of Japan’s, saying that their resistance to receiving immigrants has resulted in stagnation in its economy.

“The Japanese have large reserves and can withstand slow growth for a long time,” he was quoted as saying, adding that the choice to take a hostile stance to immigrants is something that Singapore “cannot afford to make”.

“Like it or not, unless we have more babies, we need to accept immigrants,” he added.