Why are Malays having more babies?

A letter on The Straits Times forum page has gone viral, with the author questioning why Malay Singaporeans are having more babies than the other races in Singapore.

The provocatively headlined letter, “Do Malay husbands know something the Chinese don’t?”, appeared on The Straits Times Forum page on Wednesday. The online version of it has been Facebook-shared over 8,000 times to date.

In an eight-paragraph letter, writer Ivan Goh compares the total fertility rate (TFR) of Chinese in Singapore (1.08), Indians (1.09) and Malay Singaporeans (1.64) and essentially asks why the TFR for Malays is so much higher.

“Perhaps the Government should find out why Malay women are more willing to have babies,” he wrote.

He continued: “Are Malay men more romantic, persuasive and less stressed out by life’s perceived demands than Chinese men? Do Malay couples have a more viable network of caregivers?”

Reaction to the letter has been mixed, with some praising it for sparking debate on what is generally a taboo topic, while others saying it displayed great ignorance of the issue.

FAMILY VALUES



When asked about the letter, 26-year-old project manager Nur Anisa told Yahoo! Singapore she agrees with the point Goh made about having a strong network of family caregivers.

"Grandmothers, aunts and even neighbours are willing to take care of the children if the mothers have to work, and we do have a very close-knit community--that really does help," she said, adding that Malays place a great amount of value and emphasis on the family and in having families.

She stressed that Malays do not dismiss the importance of career progression and financial security, but said simply that they typically value their families much more.

"So having a family isn't seen as a burden for most of us -- we see children as a 'blessing from God', even if they might be unplanned during a marriage," she said.

She pointed out, however, that contrary to what Goh wrote, confidence isn't necessarily the key factor to having more children.

"I don't think it's much about what Malay men have in terms of confidence, it's just the values that the Malays hold on to," she said, adding that Malay men are happy with and tend to find contentment in having families, as well as being able to provide for the family, more than anything else.

This thinking may be changing, though. For 28-year-old Muhammad Adil, the importance of career and financial stability come much more into play in current times.

“I think for the upcoming generation and mine, we are quite balanced in a way that we put the importance of family on the same level as career since the cost of living is much higher now,” he said.

“That said, I think we will still lead (as a community) in producing the most babies, since family will always be important in the Malay community!”

Copy editor Yusuf Abdol Hamid disagreed with the idea that any traits Malay men might have could impact their birth rates.

"I think birth rates don't come down to how romantic someone is, or spontaneous even--to say that Malay men are more successful at getting their wives pregnant because of that is illogical," said the 27-year-old.

He pointed out that contrary to what Goh wrote, policies in the past made no difference to child-bearing behaviour in the Malay community, where during the two-child policy years, he said his mother never knew anyone who went to get themselves sterilised.

"Everyone (Malay Muslim families) continued having children, even with the financial penalties that came with them, and none of them were too bothered by the policies that discouraged having more," he said.

But he said things might change as Singapore's society matures, and the next generation of Malay parents may be clearly pulling away from previous ones.

"We're all still chasing the same things -- money and career first, and the rest (such as family) simply facilitate our journey there."

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