The Washington Post has an early vision of the future, care of Singapore, who like Japan are suffering from the success of post-WWII industrialisation and demographic changes. In Singapore, citizens don’t want babies — or foreign workers, either. Excerpt:
In Singapore, the place where most people go to make the biggest decision in their lives — other than, arguably, their choice of a spouse — is the headquarters of the Housing Development Board. It’s a get-a-room, one-stop shop: Browse the planned communities depicted in glass-enclosed models on the first floor, pick out your unit at the staged showrooms three floors up, and descend again to line up your financing and apply for a spot.
Spend much time there, though, and the real mission becomes apparent: Make babies. Right now, Singapore is a time bomb. In 1980, there were 17 people working for every retired person. That’s come down to six people today, and by 2030, the ratio is expected to be 2 to 1 — a problem stalking much of the developed world that’s bearing down on this island city-state with alarming speed.
So at HDB, it’s families first. Flat-screen TVs display b-roll of smiling pregnant women and couples with strollers. “Working together to build a loving home,” scrolls the motto of the Ministry of National Development underneath. Expecting newlyweds and those with small children jump ahead in the line for new flats (just one of a slew of procreation incentives). Even though the government recently started allowing unmarried people to buy units if they’re over 35 — past which they’re presumably beyond all help — the videos depicting a homely single woman arranging flowers in her lonely living room did not make the choice look attractive.
Aisya Sharif, a 26-year-old kindergarten teacher, is doing exactly what the government wants her to do. At HDB’s vast waiting room on a recent afternoon, she sat reading a book about pregnancy, about to pick up the keys to a new four-bedroom apartment she’d bought with her firefighter husband. It’s an exciting new phase — getting married and buying property is pretty much the only way to move out of your parents’ house — but the future doesn’t look so bright.
“One word? Struggling,” Sharif says, when asked how Singapore is faring. The costs of food, gas and goods are rising, but wages haven’t kept pace. “Generally, what we’re getting is not as much as things are increasing. To survive here is okay, but to do better is hard.”
Over the past decade, the government has tried to supplement the sagging labor force by welcoming immigrants — only 3.2 million of the country’s 5.3 million residents are actually citizens. For Sharif, though, that’s made doing better even harder. She’s now competing with foreign teachers for the best jobs at private international schools. And she’s noticed that everything is getting more crowded as foreign laborers flood the malls, subways and well-designed public waterfront.